Sayema's Reviews > American Dervish

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
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Mar 08, 12

Read from January 19 to March 08, 2012

As a Pakistani Muslim American born and raised in the US, I was very excited when I heard about this coming-of-age story of a Pakistani American boy in the US written by a Pakistan American author. I also read positive reviews and, therefore, anticipated reading a nuanced, refreshing story with multidimensional characters reflecting an authentic Pakistani Muslim American experience.

My anticipation quickly turned to dread as I read the first few pages of this novel, which describe the main character Hayat's so-called liberation and "freedom" from his religion as he sinks his teeth into a pork hot dog. The next few pages describe a college class in which the professor challenges the authenticity of the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an, while the protagonist Hayat happily follows along. It immediately struck me as an easy plot device for the author to portray the main character as one who has rejected his religion in order to gain freedom. I dreaded the rest of the story for fear that it would surely paint all Muslims as one-dimensional stereotypical caricatures...closed-minded extremists...but part of me hoped that that I would be wrong.

Unfortunately, I was right. The cast of Pakistani and Muslim characters in this story covers the majority of stereotypes widely disseminated in society today: closed-minded, anti-Semitic Muslims; violent, abusive Muslim men; philandering, alcoholic hypocritical Muslim men; oppressed, fatalistic Muslim women. Aside from the one arguably nuanced character in the story, Mina, the rest of the characters are one dimensional. The negative portrayal of Pakistani Muslims as a whole was not only disappointing; it reeked of inauthenticity to me. There was a lack of nuance and a lack of humanity in these characters that rendered them unlikeable and unrelatable.

I feel very let down. I hoped to read a story in which I could see a bit of my life experience within its pages. Instead, I read a story which panders to the mainstream Western narrative of Pakistanis and Muslims as backward, dysfunctional, extremist abusers, a story in which the protagonist must reject his identity and religion to find any semblance of redemption.

I gave this story two stars because it was written well, for what it was, making for a fast and, at times, gripping read. On the whole, though, a disappointment.
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message 1: by Jamie (new)

Jamie Do you have any suggestions for books that better illustrate the 'US born Muslim' culture and lifestyle? I would much rather read something that actually portrays a more realistic point of view.


Sayema Thanks for your comment Jaime. I have not read it yet, but I heard that Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, is interesting, candid, honest. It is a collection of true biographical stories written by American Muslim women about their lives. Each story is unique and genuine. If you do read it, let me know what you think.


Joanno Sayema, did you not feel some redemption when the main character turned back to the faith at the end after everything? I, too, will try book you've recommended


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