Nice book. Beautifully written. Interesting story with major themes wound all through it. I guess this is a fictionalized memoir. It takes the shape of Akhtar’s life but anyone who seriously mistakes it for a straight memoir is missing some parts. The first section, “Overture: To America” is probably straight.
by Ayad Akhtar
2020 / 344 pages
Read by the author: 10h 19m
Rating: 9.5 / contemp US
In several ways it reminds me of some of Salman Rushdie’s work. (This is a good thing.) “We are all mongrels.”
Ayad is an American born of Palestinian immigrants who has a hard time feeling “at home” in the US. For most of the novel, he’s on his way to becoming an award winning writer. His parents are both medical doctors. But although he was born and raised here, Ayad doesn’t feel like at home in America. He doesn’t say this is the fault of the native white Americans. The way he understands it, his alienation is his own fault. He thinks of and refers to himself as being Palestinian – an outsider. That’s part of the main theme.
Other parts are how his parents think of themselves as being so honored to be here but how he, Ayad, feels cheated. (I think that’s pretty common for the immigrant generation to be grateful for the US and their children to feel cheated by not getting the whole “American Dream.”).
And what is American? Oh Akhtar opines for awhile on that one. Perhaps it’s financial debt – he riffs on that a lot from his own debt to an auto mechanic to the transnational corporate regimes who operate unilaterally without anyone even voting. And then there’s the matter of the stock market and short-selling with small towns being the victims.
And it’s about families, especially fathers – one obnoxious father in particular – heh.
There’s a bunch of sex in here, too – as I suppose would be appropriate in the memoir of a successful single male in his early 40s living in New York in the 1980s and ‘90s. But his Muslim mother and morés are always just under the surface.
Religion, usually in the form of Muslim vs Christian, comes up again and again -never for long – some of this is really well done.
And of course 9/11 is covered, Ayad was in New York at the time, on the streets, so that gets some play – he, his friends and his family were suddenly both suspects and victims.
And Akhtar includes some economics and Black economics and Black rights and Black artists. Actually, there’s a lot of economics as theme.
And there are scams and scandals sprinkled through as well – even a touch of the dark side.
Akhtar meanders and drifts to the point he makes this tale a rather baggy, shaggy thing, but I really thoroughly enjoyed it.