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Homeland Elegies

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2020)
A deeply personal work about hope and identity in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of belonging and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque adventure -- at its heart, it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home.

Akhtar forges a new narrative voice to capture a country in which debt has ruined countless lives and our ideals have been sacrificed to the gods of finance, where a TV personality is president and immigrants live in fear, and where the nation's unhealed wounds of 9/11 wreak havoc around the world. Akhtar attempts to make sense of it all through the lens of a story about one family, from a heartland town in America to palatial suites in Central Europe to guerilla lookouts in the mountains of Afghanistan, and spares no one -- least of all himself -- in the process.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published September 15, 2020

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About the author

Ayad Akhtar

10 books872 followers
Ayad Akhtar is a playwright, novelist, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the author of American Dervish (Little, Brown & Co.), published in over 20 languages and named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2012. As a playwright, he has written Junk (Lincoln Center, Broadway; Kennedy Prize for American Drama, Tony nomination); Disgraced (Lincoln Center, Broadway; Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Tony nomination); The Who & The What (Lincoln Center); and The Invisible Hand (NYTW; Obie Award, Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award, Olivier, and Evening Standard nominations). As a screenwriter, he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay for The War Within. Among other honors, Akhtar is the recipient the Steinberg Playwrighting Award, the Nestroy Award, the Erwin Piscator Award, as well as fellowships from the American Academy in Rome, MacDowell, the Sundance Institute, and Yaddo, where he serves as a Board Director. Additionally, Ayad is a Board Trustee at PEN/America and New York Theatre Workshop.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,935 reviews
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews596 followers
October 6, 2020
Is it a bird? ....a plane? ...or Superman?
“I was a Muslim with a funny name”.
....is it fiction?
....that reads like a memoir? ....is it essays,
that are personal, passionate, entertaining, thought-provoking, ambitious, and brilliant?...
YES...YES...YES....it’s all of the above.

I really can’t say enough great things about Ayad Akhtar....as a very inspiring human being, and a damn good novelist ——

“Homeland Elgies” is written with purpose, and heart.
We learn about Aktar....( fiction-combo-truth), as he tries to make sense of America - as a Muslim.

This book reads quickly, but not too quickly—
There are compelling backstories about his immigrant parents, their philosophies, beliefs, jobs, -and life values.
Aktar gave us a genuine experience of his journey growing up with brown skin...
From close to poverty - to the experience of elite privileged living.

The writing was so good, that I often re-read passages two and three times.
The dialogue stimulated wisdom, insight, and concerns of unifying diversity, and pride of identity.

“I’d just crossed into New York State when my cell phone rang. It was my mother. She was worried. Why haven’t I called yesterday? I apologized, told her about the problem with the car. I haven’t wanted to concern her. My father overheard the mention of trouble with the car and picked up the receiver:
“What happened to the car?”
“Blew a head gasket”.
“It’s a lemon. I told you it was a waste of money”.
“I know Dad”.
“How much did they charge you?”
“Don’t worry about it”
The conversation continues—-his father insists that they can help.
Atkar was thinking:
“I knew they were hearing the need, the distress in my voice. I knew they wanted me to say more. But what to tell them? That I was lost and broke and felt persistently humiliated and under attack and the only country I’ve ever known, a place that the more I understood, the less I felt I belong? What was the point?
Eventually—after more contemplating thoughts, Atkar was going to stop pretending that he felt like an American”.

“We, Muslims, we’re constantly besieged by a culture that didn’t understand us, that didn’t want us. It was why I only ever voiced my thoughts indirectly, through that particular prevarication called art. I didn’t see the point of harping on ‘our’ issues in public when it was evident ‘their’ mishaps and blind spots were so much more pressing. The existential threats to our species were not coming from us but from the proliferation of their ‘enlightened’ way of life to every corner of the planet. Wasn’t ‘that’ the necessary critique now?”

“There is a culture here, for sure, and it has nothing to do with all the well-meaning nonsense. It’s about racism and money worship— and when you’re on the correct side of both those things? That’s when you really belong. Because that when you start to represent the best of what they think they are”.
“We do the same thing they do: we make ourselves out to be better than we are. And what really doesn’t help is how we end up using their contempt as an excuse to avoid our own failings”.
Atkar and his Muslim friend, Riaz—two brown men— were arguing (in the best of ways- that friends have serious discussions together - inserting a joke here and there to lighten the heavy issues)
“Are blacks supposed to go around pretending not to be enraged about the shit they go through in this country every day? Just because it makes them look bad to white people? They’re angry, and they’ve got damn good reasons to be. And maybe we do, too”.
“We’re caught in this awful cycle of belatedness and inferiority. It’s made us feel weak. For generation after generation. And being weak has made us angry—“

“I was not writing literature, in his view, but rather emotionally charged rhetorical delivery devices passing for art; it was anti-Muslim muckraking, offering deceptively compelling illusions of reasoned argument in service of the destructive tropes Riaz’s foundation was working hard to undo in the first place. Admitting me to this board, in a word, a disgrace—though apparently not disgraceful enough to merit his leaving it. I took his animadversions in stride. What else was there to do but to thank him for his thoughts and pretend I didn’t care?”
Joining Riaz’s board exposed Aktar to parts of the world he’d only read about.
He met Hillary ( notice he didn’t need to print her last name), had dinner at Chez Panisse, prepared by Alice Waters, herself...
went backstage at ‘Hamilton’, went fly fishing in Idaho with Fareed Zakaria (Indian-American, journalist, political scientist, and author: writes a weekly column for the Washington Post), went golfing in Pebble Beach with Neel Kash-Kari, (President of the Federal Reserved Bank in Minneapolis/a Republican who unsuccessfully ran for Governor of California in the 2014 election), and few time Venice where he spent three days on the Lido, meeting with Muslim artists, spent another few days in Dhabi at a conference devoted to Islamic microfinance....
and another week in Frankfurt to host a gala where they raised over a million euros to support gay Muslims being persecuted in Chechnya....
and the list went on and on....
sharing fancy delicious foods with famous actors, artists, politicians, scientists, philosophers, ... etc.
Atkar came to see that he became an honorary member of the privileged class.

I laughed that Atkar was getting use to asparagus season in Marchfeld and Sauternes with his fois gras.
It didn’t take him that long- either - to get use to private jets, room service, expensive Italian clothes, and other outlandish
elite opportunities....
including more lovers that he’d like to admit.
“After all, there was so much fucking to be had and with so little effort”.

There were soooo many pages in this book where I just ‘had’ to read over and over ....
then sit with my own somewhat smirking smile.

Absolutely brilliant scene...
about our ‘star’ ( Aktar), being a neoliberal courtier....
“not only of inalienable human rights and enlightened rage but also freedom itself, both sexual and monetary, an eager frontline recruit for the purported progressive ideological battles of our time. My awakening from this stupor of self-congratulatory entitlement would be swift and brutal. An accumulation of private and public misfortunes—a copper penny rash on my palms, my mothersdeath, the election of Donald Trump—would disabuse me of my will to benevolent privilege. I’m ashamed it took me so long to wake up to the bankruptcy of this purported moral vision. Until then, I was susceptible; I was culpable; I was a willing and enthusiastic advocate; this vision of the good life felt good indeed; I was a believer in the politically enlightened late-stage capitalist individualist creed; I loved Obama; I was tongue-tied with awe when I met Sergey Brin. Who could blame me? What more, what better, for me, for anyone else, did the world have to offer?”
“Before my tumble from this world-view, I spent more time thinking about money than ever before. I knew the life I was leading was predicated on capital. I knew I didn’t have any. How much longer would Riaz let me float along on the swollen river of his seemingly endless lucre? I didn’t know. Money was no object to him, of course, but I could see the writing on the wall”.
From riding in the back seat of sleek black Mercedes limousines, he worried about the fallout, and when he would return to his life in a tiny Harlem one bedroom with only his imagination and iPhone.
Aktar knew he didn’t want to be dirt poor....

Like I’ve already said—
I really can’t say enough ( total brilliance), about this book—
....Our broken hearts of the American dream—
....Falling in love—
... family, education, art, money, race, religion, loss, duty, deceit....

This book takes us on a journey so thoroughly engrossing— deeply about America —-and the language of America— that we see the world Aktar gives us — familiar, yet anew.

5 strong stars - highly recommend!

Profile Image for Jennifer ~ TarHeelReader.
2,182 reviews30.5k followers
September 18, 2020
Have you heard about Homeland Elegies yet? The author, Ayad Akhtar, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author already, and he deserves another. While the book is fiction, it is inspired by the author’s own story. It’s a book about finding cultural identity in the US, especially post 9/11. It’s about family. What does it mean to be an American? The writing is stunning. The truths, shocking. Smart. I have read nothing like it. Once I picked it up, I could not put it down, and I was filled with emotion throughout. Honest, raw, insightful thought-provoking, and memorable, this is such a great book for learning and discussion. Five stars.

I received a gifted copy. All opinions are my own.

Many of my reviews can also be found on my blog: www.jennifertarheelreader.com and instagram: www.instagram.com/tarheelreader
Profile Image for Ari Levine.
202 reviews158 followers
September 24, 2020
Maddeningly glib and discursively self-indulgent, but with occasional flashes of brilliance. More of a collection of autobiographical essays about living as an Ivy-educated American-born-Pakistani ambivalent-Muslim Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright named Ayad Akhtar, who seems too minimally self-aware to be writing an autofictional novel about living in Trump's hypercapitalist and racist America.

Reads like late Philip Roth's self-important State of America novels (like The Human Stain or Exit Ghost), with political diatribes and literary provocations interleaved with overt misogyny, priapic sex, high-end boozing, and literal masturbation. As with late-period Roth, it's all just one-note haranguing that sustains the narrative momentum, but Akhtar doesn't have Roth's sense of structure or skill at pacing. About 100 pages too long, since he (or his authorial mouthpiece) doesn't know when to stop. Would have definitely benefited from a rigorous edit that could contain its explosive logorrhea.

Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown for sharing an ARC with me in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,140 reviews2,757 followers
August 30, 2020
What to call this? Others have called it a memoir. But while the main character and author share a name, he states that this is fiction. But many of the book’s chapters read more like essays. Whatever form you want to call it, it’s an interesting book.
Starting back when his cardiologist father first met Donald Trump in 1993, we watch this father and son duo go back and forth. We also hear from his mother, his hedge fund operating friend, his girlfriend and countless relatives on what it means to be a Muslim in the US.
I loved the points made about being the child of an immigrant, of getting a bird’s eye view into why his mother and family friend supported the mujahideen, on Riaz’s and Mike’s takes on debt and capitalism. Surprisingly, the book spends as much time discussing capitalism as it does religion. I found this enjoyable, especially in the current contrast between Democratic and Republican beliefs in the best way to help Americans, especially Black Americans.
I do feel the beginning of the book would have been helped by a better editing job. It came across as discombobulated. Luckily, it got much more focused for the latter ¾ of the book and I enjoyed it much more.
My thanks to netgalley and Little, Brown for an advance copy of this book.
What to call this? Others have called it a memoir. But while the main character and author share a name, he states that this is fiction. But many of the book’s chapters read more like essays. Whatever form you want to call it, it’s an interesting book.
Starting back when his cardiologist father first met Donald Trump in 1993, we watch this father and son duo go back and forth. We also hear from his mother, his hedge fund operating friend, his girlfriend and countless relatives on what it means to be a Muslim in the US.
I loved the points made about being the child of an immigrant, of getting a bird’s eye view into why his mother and family friend supported the mujahideen, on Riaz’s and Mike’s takes on debt and capitalism. Surprisingly, the book spends as much time discussing capitalism as it does religion. I found this enjoyable, especially in the current contrast between Democratic and Republican beliefs in the best way to help Americans, especially Black Americans.
I do feel the beginning of the book would have been helped by a better editing job. It came across as discombobulated. Luckily, it got much more focused for the latter ¾ of the book and I enjoyed it much more.
My thanks to netgalley and Little, Brown for an advance copy of this book.
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,049 reviews48.7k followers
September 1, 2020
The challenge of remembering one’s identity in a racist culture is also at the heart of Ayad Akhtar’s remarkable new book, “Homeland Elegies.” But here, Akhtar bounds far beyond the cleverly engineered drama of “Disgraced.” With its sprawling vision of contemporary America, “Homeland Elegies” is a phenomenal coalescence of memoir, fiction, history and cultural analysis. It would not surprise me if it wins him a second Pulitzer Prize.

But for which category?

In an introductory note to readers, Akhtar claims, “This is not a work of autobiography. . . . This is a novel.” That’s the only disingenuous passage in this book. The interior design of “Homeland Elegies” may include elements of fiction, but the architecture is clearly the author’s life: The narrator is a man named Ayad Akhtar, the son of Pakistani doctors, who writes a Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a Muslim American and then struggles to negotiate the rising xenophobia of the Trump era. Check, check, check, check.

My point isn’t to call out how closely the story echoes the author’s history. One of the most fascinating themes of this tour de force is the sustained tension between memoir and invention that runs through any creative person’s life. Akhtar introduces that subject early in a chapter called “On Autobiography; or, Bin Laden.” He notes that after his play made him famous, he was repeatedly asked to what extent the central character was him. “I’ve gleaned that what I’m usually being asked is whether I, too, felt a blush of pride on September 11.” His answer loops back to. . . .

To read the rest of this review, go to The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Malia.
Author 6 books568 followers
February 4, 2021
The hype is justified! I was hesitant to read this for a while there, because so many lauded books were disappointing to me last year, but I am happy to report, this one lived up to high expectations. I had heard about it ages ago, when the author was a guest on a podcast, and he was so eloquent and seemed very thoughtful that I was quick to add the book to my tbr and then forgot about it again, because my tbr is an out of control beast...
It's difficult to describe this book. Is it fiction? Nonfiction? Memoir? Satire? Some kind of wonderfully blended amalgam of all of the above? Whatever it is, I enjoyed it from beginning to end. The writing is elegant, yet accessible, and the story incredibly relevant to our times. I especially liked the last fifty pages, which focused on the author's relationship with his father. In Homeland Elegies, Akhtar explores what home means, how we seek to find it in places, in other people, and in ourselves. What a satisfying way to start this reading year! Recommended!

Find my book reviews and more at http://www.princessandpen.com
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
October 9, 2020
Part fiction, though it reads as narrative non fiction, part memoir and could even be described as a book of connecting essays. Very different, original and thought provoking, this insight into a Muslim author and his family.

How we as Americans are viewed, how we treat those we consider other, untrustworthy, unwanted. How it feels to be the other, judged, condemned, trying to fit in, live alongside, be part of, but never quite fitting. After 9/11 judge and condemned as a whole, hated, attacked, even though many were born here and considered themselves Americans. Looked at always with suspicious eyes.

Does there always have to be an other? In this country it seems so. Though it gets off to a slow start, its candid and forthright manner gives one room for thought. Are we so unaccepting, fearful that we cannot judge a person for who they are as a person instead of surrounding religions, races within a wall of suspicious hate? Questions that each individual needs to answer for themselves.
Profile Image for Barbara**catching up!.
1,394 reviews804 followers
December 27, 2020
“I wanted to find a form that would express this confusion between fact and fiction which seems to increasingly become the texture of our reality or unreality," ---(Author Ayad Akhtar’s reason for writing a fiction/memoir combo)

Mission accomplished, at least for me. I chose to listen to author Ayad Akhtar’s much praised “Homeland Elegies” because he narrates it. I feel that when an author narrates their own work, the feelings that he is expressing in written word are portrayed by his voice. As an aside, his narrating skills are top grade. He possesses multiple dialects and each of his characters have their own voice. Akhtar is a fantastic narrator.

Now to the story. For me, it was uneven. I physically cringed at some of the racism his protagonist encountered. Akhtar provided a personal touch to what Muslims have endeared in the United States, especially after 9/11. This story reads like a memoir, yet he says it is fiction…well, some of it is fiction and he won’t divulge what is fiction and what is not. He adds dollops of cultural events, providing his opinion as to how it affected America, especially the economy. His cultural analysis also lays out his opinion as to how Trump came to win the presidency. And inexplicably, he added some fairly graphic sex scenes, more than one. For this 63-year-old lady, it was uncalled for and questionable. I found it to be distracting. It most likely turned off a big segment of readers. Perhaps he only wants young readers.

Nonetheless, I persisted because it is a highly rated story and one that is supposed to be relevant in our culture to expose our American racism. He accomplished that for me. But that wasn’t the main message. In fact, I’m not sure what his message was because it doesn’t really have a common thread, other than following a Muslim man’s coming-of-age. I guess I wanted more of his feelings about racism, which is rampant regarding Muslim Americans. I did find his beliefs about how Trump’s rise to power occurred to be interesting. I read this to learn and to open my mind.

I am in the minority in not loving this one. It was just too uneven for me.
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,547 reviews602 followers
October 30, 2020
By removing the boundaries between fiction, memoir and essays, Akhtar has created something new, confusing and brilliant. He doesn't hold anything back in this searing examination of his family, country, art, post 9/11 life. Is it true? Is this his life? Maybe, probably, does it matter? Remarkably, the book doesn't get bogged down by its ambitions - every page feels essential.

Homeland Elegies is about being American and an outsider in the 21st century, but more than anything, it is about Akhtar's complicated, deep relationship with his father.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books964 followers
June 17, 2021
Homeland Elegies (2020) is a "novel" that seems to riff off the 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy. Both books succeed at offering family anecdotes to reveal something about the American political experience. With Hillbilly we got a view into Appalachian values that offered some unique case studies for understanding why the Obamas were so despised by poor whites. The memoir was an instant success that grew even more popular when Democrats scrambled to understand how a monster like Trump could receive enough votes to become president.

In Homeland Elegies we get something similar from a Muslim American perspective. Akhtar doesn't steep his narrative in politics, but he does share family anecdotes, personal experiences in the aftermath of 9/11, and snippets of life as a celebrated playwright. The combined effect illustrates how even some Muslims found themselves attracted to the Trump agenda, while others—like the author—were devastated to watch the country he loves be taken over by a lunatic.

Although Trump is mostly off in the distance, often completely irrelevant given the time jumps, he is a present figure for understanding cracks in Akhtar's family unit. It would be a shame, however, to let the former president distract from the simplistic beauty of a Muslim perspective on what is mostly everyday life (as much everyday life as you can get for a Pulitzer-winning author, anyway). That's where the real heart of the story is.

The added twist in all this is that Ayad Akhtar has dubbed this book a novel instead of memoir. The writing, structure, character names, events and personal facts, however, are all presented as non-fiction. In interviews, the author even catches himself saying "I" instead of "the narrator" when discussing the content. The decision to call this fiction is certainly interesting. Was it purely for legal reasons? How much is totally made up? 10%? 90%? And does that cheapen the seemingly real story of a family, or make it genius?

Critics seem to lean toward genius, frequently putting this novel on their Top 10 lists from 2020. I'm much more on the fence. As autobiographical fiction, the narrative clarity lacks substance and a thematic point is much more jumbled. As non-fiction, there could have been more forgiveness for a collage of random events that vaguely resemble something like a message. If the novel is a true novel, as in 100% fiction with only some names and minor details based on reality, then it is certainly an impressive experiment with form. But I don't think that's what it is. In the end, calling it a novel just feels like a legally convenient way to jazz up his life experiences, and a marketing ploy.

Overall, I can't say Homeland Elegies is bad because it's not, but I can say I will likely forget everything about it by next week. The few juicy lines of Trump bashing are all good fun, but I've also got Trump fatigue and am ready to move on. The heartbreaking anecdote of xenophobia in New York on 9/11 is powerful, but since the story is a "novel" it doesn't mean as much. Still, a rewarding experience to see the world for a few hundred pages from a Muslim American perspective, whether that's fiction or non-fiction, and for that it deserves a tepid recommendation.
Profile Image for Doug.
2,042 reviews742 followers
February 17, 2021
I've been a longtime fan of Akhtar as a playwright, finding 3 of his 4 plays exemplary (I'll explain the one exception momentarily), so was eager to make my way through this odd hybrid of novel/memoir (which I guess makes it fall under the popular rubric 'auto-fiction') - especially once it found its way on to so many 'best of 2020' lists. And for the most part this didn't disappoint - most of the more personal stories were poignant, timely, memorable and effective, making one all too painfully aware of how America has failed in its 'melting pot' ideals for too many.

But several times within that narrative, the author got bogged down in political/economic theory - the sections depicting the careers of Riaz Rind and Robert Bork in particular - and I found my interest waning and my eyes glazing over in incomprehension - the same fault I found in his latest play, Junk: A Play, which seemed to require an MBA to decipher what was going on in it.

And it is too bad the Literary Review suspended its 'Bad Sex in Writing Award' for this year, since several of the more purple passages in this would have been major contenders for THAT award as well (nothing dampens one's ardor like a dose of syphilis!)!

Be that as it may, the majority of the book I think will stay with me and make me contemplate the issues raised for some time to come, and it also made me interested in becoming an Akhtar completist and reading his first novel American Dervish as well.

Many thanks to both Netgalley and Little Brown for the ARC, in exchange for this honest review.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
December 29, 2020
This novel is brilliant. Akhtar writes a fictional account of his adult life with a special focus on his father. His parents are originally from Pakistan and he grew up in Milwaukee where his father worked as a cardiologist. Nothing about Akhtar’s perspective or his parents’ perspective is predictable or simplistic. Akhtar dwells on contemporary politics and issues of belonging and not belonging. His novel is a non linear meditation full of insight, irreverence, self-reflexion and complex love for his parents. This is one I would easily read again.
Profile Image for Betsy Robinson.
Author 9 books1,075 followers
February 3, 2021
The only reason this book is called a novel instead of a memoir (which is what it is) is that legally that is the only way it could be published. From the get-go, to recount doctor/patient conversations when the doctor is Akhtar’s father and the patient is Donald Trump would make this a landmine of legal actions and ethics breaches.

There is so much content, I can’t begin to review or even process what I learned and what I believe is true and where personality grated on me to a point where I turned off and stopped listening.

What turned me off is that for a man as brilliant, introspective, and articulate as Ayad Akhtar, a man who spends great periods of time analyzing the seduction and flaunting of wealth and the screwiness of our system of economics, privilege, and bias, for such a person to never turn this same eye toward his own attitude toward sex and women—which he describes in lurid, sometimes subversively self-aggrandizing detail bordering on pornographic in a hefty section of the middle of the book—for such a writer to then glibly, and to my ear, disingenuously explain that he is not proud of his actions (and he hopes the reader will still like him), when the sheer amount of graphic description conveys the opposite, for him to overlook his sexual activity in a context of all the other consumerism he talks about . . . to me it feels like a thick layer of writer’s denial. If he was going to hold no punches, I wanted no less from him in regard to his profusely displayed sex life. I want him to admit his attempt to hide pride in the detail, and find out why on earth he is proud. In short, I want full personal truth. Without it, I sometimes felt like I’d been unwittingly forced to watch somebody masturbate.*

Suffice it to say, this is a complicated memoir by a very complicated writer about being a Muslim Pakistani-American man, about being an American and our perspective that has become distorted by narcissism, entitlement, denial, and consumerism, about how we are “a nation in thrall to our own stupidity. (288)” It also is an education in Pakistani and Indian history, finance, and so many other things. There is way more valuable content than the annoying veiled sex mess, and the ending is particularly poignant, evoking all the pain of the contradictions in this American life. I’m glad I read this and now will take a shower to wash off the silt and digest what’s worth retaining.

*Ironically, at the end of the book, Akhtar confronts a young Muslim student pornographer and incredulously chastises him for the very thing he, Akhtar, has done in this book. The student seems to think that showing a brown man having sex with white women is arousing and powerful. Perhaps this is a case of the author seeing his own reflection. I don't know because he has not analyzed himself in that regard.
Profile Image for Tom Mooney.
649 reviews172 followers
July 30, 2020
Homeland Elegies lives and ultimately dies on its peculiar structure. This is neither fiction nor non-fiction. It is a personal project made public.

Parts of this book are engaging, insightful and genuinely moving. But, the further you get in, the less connection you feel with Akhtar's story. It goes from a dissection of 20th century America's relationship with its own Muslim population, to quite an academic take on the financial and political landscape.

When we're with Akhtar (or his alter-ego, at least), there is forward movement, passion, enjoyment. But then he veers off to side stories about characters that are picked up and dropped, to political diatribes that seem to have no place in the story.

I just didn't get it.
Profile Image for Chris.
Author 38 books11.4k followers
February 18, 2021
Homeland Elegies is sensational: a gripping, moving, haunting, insightful collection of linked stories with hints of memoir. Ayad Akhtar has offered a searing, urgent portrait of what it means to be an outsider in America, how the U.S. wound up such a divided train wreck, and the mysteries that are always unveiled when we really (and finally) get to know our parents.
Profile Image for Trudie.
544 reviews583 followers
November 19, 2020

I believe I read this memoir/novel/series of essays at just the right time.
Ayad Akhtar's astute observations on American life found a reader already preoccupied with the question of "how did America find itself held captive to a demagogue?" This book while not ostensibly setting out to answer that timeless question, nevertheless has come closest to any I have read so far in providing answers.

It is almost impossible to tease out fiction from autobiography here, so I guess it falls under the genre de jour, auto-fiction. Although it didn't detract from the power of the book, I did have to ignore my internal fact-checker, wanting to know if a particular scene played as written and if it didn't, how was it manipulated and to what end. I have not yet resolved with myself why this should matter in a work labelled as fiction.

Homeland Elegies is the work of an author utterly fearless in examining his own life, as well as that of his father. It makes for some uncomfortable reading, both for what the author reveals about himself but more so for the singularly unflattering portrait of an America riven by mistrust, misinformation and greed.

The national mood was Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, nihilistic- and no one embodied this better than Donald Trump. Trump was no aberration or idiosyncrasy..., but a reflection, a human mirror in which to see all we had become

Art, like everything else, was drowning in the tidal wave of ubiquitous and ascendant anger. Authenticity was measured now in decibels. Every utterance, every expressive gesture, was read as a pledge of allegiance to some discernible creed.

Seems likely to make it into my top-10 reads of 2020

Profile Image for Quo.
292 reviews
September 14, 2021
Ayad Akhtar's Homeland Elegies is many things, including insightful, provocative, overly self-indulgent & frustratingly discursive. It's lack of continuity, perhaps meant to make the author's statement more "contemporary" in style, ends up as a disconcerting patchwork rather than an orderly blend of times, voices & literary formats.

Roughly divided in 3 segments: Family Politics, Scranton Memoirs & Pox Americana, the book attempts to deal with what is the rather familiar story of a first generation American whose roots are distinctly American but who struggles to feel like the native son he in fact is because of his color, ethnicity, parental pressure & the specter of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the United States.

It seems that even a Wisconsin-born, Ivy League graduate (Brown University) & Pulitzer Prize winning playwright continues to feel compelled almost daily to prove himself worthy of his birthright.

In the award-winning play, Disgraced, a character much like the author explains that...
as the towers were falling, he felt something unexpected & unwelcome, a sense of pride, which he explains in the play's climactic scene, made him realize that, despite having been born here, despite the totality of his belief in this country & his commitment to being an American, he somehow still identified with the mentality that saw itself as aggrieved & "other".

This is a mind-set he spent much of the play despising & for which he continually uses, to the chagrin of those onstage (& many in the audience), the term Muslim. The play's only other character of Muslim origin refers to the 9/11 attacks as something America deserved & a harbinger of more to come.
In Homeland Elegies, Ayad Akhtar explains his approach to answering questions & accusations regarding 9/11, by commenting that "art's power, unlike journalism, has little to do with the reliability of its sourcing." And in this respect, Akhtar quotes D.H. Lawrence: "Never trust the artist, Trust the tale."

I found the accusations many Muslims perceive & are threatened by not unlike those John F. Kennedy faced, having to prove that he was an American first, in spite of his Catholic religion & what some took to be an innate subservience to the Pope.

Similarly, American Jews, among others, have been called upon to demonstrate that they are "real Americans". Many have felt it necessary to their careers & their well-being to change their names in order to better blend in to the American "melting pot".

How long their hyphenated status, as well as that of other ethnic groups in the U.S., remains a limitation on their identity represents an ongoing struggle, even for many with rather deep roots in America. One of the most indelible images within the book is of the main character, Akhtar, wearing a pilfered crucifix just after 9/11 as a kind of safety device in the face of a sea of Islamophobic hostility.

More than anything, Homeland Elegies is a book about identity & the fact that the contradictions & oppositions of being a hyphenated American often cause conflict.

I found Akhtar's examination of the the dialectic of divided loyalties the most interesting aspect of Homeland Elegies. In his words:
We lived in a Christian land but did not understand Christianity. We didn't understand it & we didn't respect it. We thought it a makeshift, misbegotten offspring of the Judaic creed. We had to adopt Christian ways that befuddled us & that we disdained, ways that we saw reflected in almost every aspect of American life.

Where some might see modernity or individualism or mercantile democracy or the heritage of the Enlightenment or a complex & endlessly heterogeneous nation, we saw (only) Christianity.
But, Akhtar also sensed an unwillingness on his part to find his place in America, "a spiritual defiance repaid in rejection, a rootless, haunting sense of having foundered in my life as an American." He was a victim but had somehow participated in his own exclusion, even as a non-practicing Muslim with a distinctly secular bent.

Interspersed with this quest to understand his own motivation, or lack of it is a mix of interactions with his parents, both Pakistan-trained medical doctors--a mother who he feels never paid much attention to him and a father struggling with multiple addictions.

As his mother dies, his father's malpractice lawsuit & insurmountable gambling debts cause him to take an unplanned, hasty retirement, fleeing back to Pakistan & some inherited property in the region of Bahawalpur, this in spite of the fact that he'd long seen himself as fully-Americanized.

Meanwhile, Akhtar is also in debt, at least until his considerable success as a playwright quickly elevates him to a financially elite class in Manhattan. He is also left $300K by way of his mother's will, which he invests via a friend's hedge fund (a man described as a Muslim Sheldon Adelson), turning it into a windfall profit.

There are countless graphically detailed descriptions of Akhtar's sexual exploits, rather like a recitation from his journal but amplified by his imagination, details that add little to the narrative, except perhaps to point to an addiction of his own making.

Among the other distractions are words that seem to point to the author's sense of satisfaction with his own vocabulary, even if they are ambiguous or irregular or even quite foreign to most readers, as in the case of particular Muslim articles of dress or Pakistani cuisine, or very specific references to places in Manhattan. Most of Akhtar's friends appear to have Ivy League degrees, boundless money & ample success but seem to lack a sense of direction in their lives.

Homeland Elegies also is replete with frequent references to "the treachery of American society that abandoned the weak & monetized the wealthy". To be sure, this is not an unfair accusation but the author might have pointed to some alternatives, particularly since he is himself living a life of luxury, having become a member of the monetary aristocracy he seems to condemn.

Akhtar comments that...
In our era, Muslims were just the minor premise of the social syllogism that formed our American nation's outraged theory of the downtrodden, for you were either for or against the victim & Muslims were the victims. Every utterance, every expressive gesture was read as a pledge of allegiance to some discernible creed.
In spite of some clear distractions, there are a great many things to like in Ayad Akhtar's rather amorphous book, including his relationship with a professor, Mary Moroni & his valiant attempt to understand both his dreams and his father but in sum total, the composite elements within Homeland Elegies that include essay, autobiography/memoir, a scripted trial venue, eventually seemed to me discordant & incongruent.

*Within my review are 2 photo images of Ayad Akhtar, a scene from his play, Disgraced & a personal quote from the author. **In reviewing my notes for Homeland Elegies & being unable to give the book a 3.5 G/R rating, I am raising it to 4*s. And if you haven't seen any of the online interviews with Ayad Akhtar, he is an amazing figure--witty, charming & articulate, perhaps the cultural equivalent of what in music is termed a "crossover artist".
Profile Image for Mike.
165 reviews15 followers
March 11, 2021
There is no Kamal Morse.

There is definitely no Kamal Morse, All-Pro linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, who retired from the NFL to start a mosque. There appears to be no Kamal Morse, period, not on Facebook, not on Twitter, not on LinkedIn.

There is a Khalil Mack, former All-Pro linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, who did not retire from the NFL to start a mosque or do anything else. Instead, he was traded to the Chicago Bears for wanting more money than the Raiders thought he was worth. He still toils in the Windy City. And he's a Christian.

And this is when I realized Homeland Elegies is a fantasy.

It's billed as an inventive memoir, a mixture of fact and fiction to tell the story of what it is like to be a Muslim in Trump's America, what life is like for immigrants and their American-born children. It is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar, featuring a character named Ayad Akhtar who is purportedly the author, but not really. He has the author's job, he has the author's parents and family, he has the author's background, he has the author's friends -- but does he have all the author's experiences? Does the author have all the character's experiences? For that matter, do the other real people in the book, such as Akhtar's father, Sikander, have their actual experiences? For example, was the author's father actually Donald Trump's heart doctor at one time?

And does it matter?

The book may not be true, but it is definitely real. The themes, the experiences, the realizations, they are all things and events that Muslims and other people of color are facing in America in recent years. Were Ayad and Sikander harassed in a gas station and told to go back to their country because Ayad did a poor parking job? Was Ayad pulled over on the highway by a seemingly friendly cop who helped Ayad with an engine problem by directing him to the policeman's relative's shady repair shop, where Ayad was hustled for a couple thousand dollars? Did Ayad use someone's sage -- possibly insider -- advice and turn a $300,000 inheritance into millions of dollars through a timely investment? Maaaaaybe. Probably not? And who cares? Those and countless similar stories happened and continue to happen to plenty of people much like Ayad Akhtar.

I suspect about 20% of the book is true. It appears that most of the people book Ayad Akhtar spends time with are not real. There's Riaz Rind, the Muslim who started a hedge fund named Avasani. Neither exists, not as described in the book. There's no Mike Jacobs, son of former Alabama politician Jerry Jacobs, at least not as Akhtar tells it. Who knows if Akhtar's father was ever sued for medical malpractice as described in the book; there certainly wasn't a lawyer named Chip Slaughter advocating for the aggrieved. I'm going to guess many if not all of Akhtar's sexual conquests are part of the fantasy.

There are plenty of clues that point to the book being all made up, even though it is billed as a fictional memoir. Akhtar writes plenty about the meaning of dreams, how he came upon a method to transcribe his, how he spent years analyzing and interpreting them. In the introduction, he even states that he wrote the book in a bit of a fever dream after his mother died. He uses family members and lovers as proxies for belief in psychics and horoscopes. He uses long, detailed, dialogue-filled arguments, mostly with his parents, to take sides against himself and his own thoughts on the Muslim religion. Many of these wind up with people saying his is hiding his anti-Muslim sentiments through his plays. So is the the author even who he thinks he is?

But does it matter? Does it matter if it all of it is true, if part of it is true, or if none of it is true? You could spend all your time looking up Kamal Morse online, looking up Riaz Rind online, looking up Mike Jacobs and Jerry Jacobs and Langford -v- Reliant, trying to find answers from Akhtar himself as to what's true and what's imagined. Or what's been dreamed.

Or ultimately you can just give in to it. Not worry about whether everything or most things are true. Just accept that they are all real. And enjoy the darn good stories that are told. Because Akhtar is an excellent writer. Based on this book, the Pulitzer was well-deserved.

Maybe there's no hedge funder who uses his wealth to raise the boats of his fellow Muslims. Maybe an All-Pro football player didn't quit the sport to start a mosque. Maybe Akhtar didn't have all the relationships with women he claims. Maybe his father didn't ride off to the Pakistan sunset. Maybe those are all just the fantasy outcomes Akhtar would like after dealing with the things he and his fellow Muslims have dealt with the last couple of decades.

Maybe that's all just fine and you get an excellent book from it.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,386 reviews115 followers
November 11, 2020
Playwright Akhtar won the Pulitzer Prize for “Disgraced” in 2013. His familiarity with stagecraft with its focus on dramatic moments to engage the audience is evident in this novel. It is an amalgamation of fact and fiction, memoir and autobiography that is designed to engage the reader in ‘Instagram-like’ short bursts.

Akhtar was born on Staten Island to Pakistani physicians (American hospitals were recruiting foreign-born physicians in the 1960s). Indeed, his cardiologist father treated the future President Donald Trump for an irregular heartbeat for a short time, and became enamored of the man. He admired and emulated aspects of Trump’s lifestyle. Indeed, Akhtar was struck by his father’s infatuation with wealth and how it mimicked that of the nation. Akhtar believes America has become a Capitalist Autocracy, valuing money over morality.

However, much of Akhtar’s elegies are about his relationship with his father, a man that loved all things American; but was still emotionally tied to the country of his birth. Recommend.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books969 followers
June 15, 2021
On the cover, in letters almost as large as the title, we get the words "A NOVEL." Thanks for telling me, I want to say, because it sure reads like Ayad Akhtar's memoir to me. A story chiefly of his father, a Pakistani doctor working in America and, at least at first, enamored of Donald T**** before he became a candidate for president.

In fact, that's the only part that looks fictional. Akhtar's father, a cardiologist, treats businessman T**** for a heart condition, and I don't think he has a heart condition. In any event, while the son finds DT abhorrent from the get-go, but especially after he gets a taste of power, the father takes a while to realize that this is a very, very bad man. Here's one of many quotes on that topic, one that touches on the national mood that led up to the 2016 election:

"Most Americans couldn't cobble together a week's expenses in case of an emergency. They had good reason to be scared and angry. They felt betrayed and wanted to destroy something. The national mood was Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, nihilistic -- and no one embodied all this better than Donald T****. T**** was no aberration or idiosyncrasy, as Mike saw it, but a reflection, a human mirror in which to see all we'd allowed ourselves to become. Sure, you could read the man for metaphors--an unapologetically racist real estate magnate epitomizing the rampant social self-obsession and narcissism that was making us all stupider by the day; greed and corruption so naked and endemic it could only be made sense of as the outsized expression of our own deepest desires-- yes, you could read the man as if he were a symbol to be deciphered, but Mike thought it was much simpler than all that. T**** had just felt the national mood, and his particular genius was a need for attention so craven, so unrelenting, he was willing to don any and every shade of our moment's ugliness, consequences be damned."

This is all an interesting side show to the racism the protagonist goes up against as a Pakistani-American (born in the USA). He goes back to 9/11 to trace the roots of a series of ugly incidents he and his father experience. The anti-Muslim fervor of 2011 is followed by the carte blanche public hate that T**** serves as a role model for, leading to more than a few uncomfortable moments in the
book occurring between 2016 and 2020.

Big book, but fast read. Quite smooth, this sailing, and my interest in both the characters and what would happen to them never wavered, perhaps backed by the fact that the setting and backdrop was our contemporary times.

At this point, my favorite novel that sure looks like a memoir of 2021. The coda at the end, called "Free Speech," even takes a critical look at how liberals (in this case, at a college) have worked against the country's interest even as the right is taking a hammer to its Constitution by backing the now-authoritarian-in-waiting, repeat candidate Orangutan (can you say "voter suppression" and "Republican politicians overturning election results at will"?).

Thoughtful and compelling stuff!
Profile Image for Faith.
1,900 reviews535 followers
September 26, 2020
This book felt more like a series of vignettes than a novel. I enjoyed the author’s play Disgraced, which covered some of the same issues (including the position of Muslims in this country), but more succinctly and with more drama. I found many of the author’s insights informative, and it’s always interesting to get another perspective on this country.

There is no way for me to know how much of this book is autobiographical, but it certainly felt like he was working out some personal issues through book, including his relationship with his immigrant parents. I found his mother’s story particularly touching. I also liked the story of the fabulously wealthy hedge fund manager who perhaps had a secret agenda. And of course I cannot disagree with the author’s description of Trump who appeals to the “nasty, brutish and nihilistic” among us. 4.5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews532 followers
September 27, 2020
A wonder at provoking thoughts on today’s societal ills in America and the odyssey of first-generation American citizens born to Asian immigrants (and, particularly those, like the author, of Pakistanian immigrant parents).

I love such books: part memoir, part fiction, all brilliantly conceived and written in prose that often floats like a melody.
Profile Image for Nir Haramati.
41 reviews
April 27, 2020
Hell yes, Homeland Elegies.

A kind of American Pastoral for a time that has perhaps outgrown both the American and the pastoral, replete with ingenuous enthusiasm, academic rigour and mystical peregrinations, cleverness and bawdy sex and reading lists, cris de coeur and confidence tricks; and with deep, sustained thought – a meditation on filial guilt, Islam, social contract theory, masculinity, the shaping and shapeshifting of collective identity, the roosting chickens of a nightmare deferred. It reverberates, it incites. It is muscular and irascible. It is untender. It is a 21st century love story between (what else?) a man and his context, a man and his conscience, an intelligence that fiercely refuses to suffer the fools of its own false gods. In his answer, of sorts, to the question posed after 9/11 by Toni Morrison: How can it be possible to properly mourn, with a mouth full of blood? Akhtar, unabashed native son, has written a denunciation of American exceptionalism; and, in triumphant paradox, a paean to it.

Tracing the line from the moral insouciance of the American ‘founding fathers’ to the unfettered predatory financial adventurism of the 1980s, from the cynical decades of Cold War gamesmanship to the consequent rise of Al-Qaeda, Akhtar evinces an apparent desire to fulminate conversationally, academically, in occasional declamatory ecstasy as a sort of outsider national conscience; Homeland Elegies is sung to the rhythms of an unapologetically Midwestern heart, its lungs now pumping the perfumed air of yesteryear’s Abbottabad, now howling themselves hoarse at a Badgers game. This book interrogates contemporary America in all its tangled nuance – the same America in which, not a decade ago, a smug campaigning Democrat could unironically proclaim, “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive” – without falling prey to easily reductive declarative statements; a tall order, to be sure.

Homeland Elegies is a bravura act of self-mythology; a gauntlet thrown at the flabby monolith of contemporary public discourse – the suicidally clamorous landscape in which, as the novel’s belligerent Everyman puts it, authenticity is “measured now in decibels” —; a corrective; a fractured lovesong; and a romping treatise in which a macabre sort of hilarity is never long missing (the direct consequence of a life of neoliberal apoligism is sometimes, as it turns out, syphilis). The book’s targets include: the sentimental, revisionist atavism of contemporary Islam, Christianity, capitalism, liberal democracy; the failure of Medicare; the reactionary disenchantment of immigrants; the homicidal excesses of nationalist mythmaking; the petty myth of a self-governing market; Akhtar excoriates intellectual laziness wherever he finds it, from Ivy League lecture halls where the fragile children of a dwindling middle class are saddled with a lifetime’s worth of irremediable debt, to the bacchanalian reception rooms in which the fine line between modern-day courtier and courtesan blurs into nonexistence. Here, we see described the lust for power, the mercenary intertwining of capitalistic and sexual greed, the unbridled onanism of the so-called American dream; this elegy is not for late capitalism itself, but for those who believed in the promise of its snakeoil, who had the temerity – or the naked, brazen hope – to imagine that the depredations of Flint were not prefigured in the homeland’s founding, foundational act of mass murder in the name of material gain. And all this is taken on with a fluency in the language of dreams and of bankers, of urban academics and smalltown cops, of Punjabi grandmothers, Wall Street sex trade workers, and Pennsylvanian imams.

The rich, maddening entanglements and contradictions that rule and texture our lives are both the fodder of great fiction, and the fruit that it bears. If Ayad Akhtar’s play Disgraced was a conversation starter; Elegies is the conversation itself.

A great & needed book.
Profile Image for David.
619 reviews140 followers
October 31, 2020
What an odd hybrid of a book this is, oscillating frequently between stimulating explorations of cultural identity and stultifying descriptions of one writer's personal and professional development. There is clearly much more fact than fiction on the page, calling into question Akhtar's insistence that he's written "a novel". His rationale for doing so is made clear in the epigraph from Alison Bechdel:

I can only make things up about things that have already happened...

Be that as it may, Homeland Elegies is much closer to memoir as reflexive hagiography than imaginative storytelling.

Akhtar has a keen mind. He writes incredibly well and with confidence. His vocabulary is stupendous and will send most readers in search of a dictionary. He does have a tendency to cast himself in an optimal light, even when his own behaviors are reprehensible, by focusing on the sins and failures of those around him. He has no reservations over name-dropping. His penis also gets thrust (um...) into the spotlight routinely. Like I said: an odd hybrid of a book.

Those who follow my reviews know that I bristle when an author chooses to wax didactic and then provides bad information to trusting readers, especially when it involves medicine. Akhtar gets one pivotal point very wrong when he states that:

"...'long QT' refers to a longer-than-normal interval between two beats of the heart." No it does not. It refers to a longer-than-normal interval between the start of ventricular depolarization and the end of ventricular repolarization within any individual beat, regardless of heart rate. Pedantic, I know, but a very important part of the book hinges upon this fact.

3.5 stars and I am looking forward to seeing what others make of this one!
Profile Image for Linda.
Author 2 books177 followers
February 16, 2021
The established majority takes its " we- image" from a minority of its best and shapes its "they- image" of the despised outsider from the minority of their worst.
Norbert Elias, German- Jewish sociologist, 1933 (p.135)

The quote cited above epitomizes one of the central dilemmas of Pulitzer Prize-winning
playwright, Ayad Akhtar's novel/ memoir about being Muslim-American post 9/11. Akhtar, the son of two Pakistani immigrant doctors, is both the victim of prejudice and harassment and a member of the economic and educational elite. In Homeland Elegies, he chronicles his struggles to create a coherent identity, and as in his other work, engages in battle against the "they" image.

Akhtar writes beautifully and is especially good at dialogue.
(The advantages of being a playwright) He consistently demonstrates the complexity of the Muslim- American experience. I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for John Banks.
136 reviews51 followers
November 4, 2020

Akhtar's Homeland Elegies is a thoughtful and incisive novel about contemporary USA. I read it in the week leading up to the USA presidential election and found it to be incredibly revealing about many of the issues dividing and shaping the nation.

The book is something of a novel, memoir, reflective essay, historical and political analysis written from the particular perspective of a Pakistani family immigrant experience in the USA. The narrator (sharing Akhtar's name) isn't particularly a practicing Muslim, he has grown up in USA and feels the USA is his home. But what that home and sense of belonging means for him and his wider family is this work's central theme. Akhtar's life experience is “still entirely shaped by the Islam that had socially defined me since 9/11” and that he lives in the midst of a culture that "didn’t understand us, that didn’t want us”. It is through art (as a playwright) that Akhtar grapples with the complexities of all this, not just for himself but also for others that he encounters.

There are moving and subtle passages covering Akhtar's relationship with his parents: his mother, who very much struggles with leaving her culture and never really feels at home in the USA; his father, who very much aspires to the Amercian dream and tries throughout his life to become the model American (even admiring and supporting Trump). The textures and contours of these relationships are so sensitively rendered without any sense of sentimentality. For me this is the strength of the book and what made me think deeply about contemporary USA, in ways that were far more interesting than the political analysis passages that are included throughout.

There are passages that relect on socio-political and economic forces shaping the USA, including the rise of neo-liberal agendas that have reduced so much to consumerism and business growth. The analysis of the costs of this for those who have been left out and left behind and their growing resentment as expressed in the rise of Trump is OK, but for me not especially revealing and doesn't add all that much to the novel. This analysis is at its best when considering how these agendas have undermined decency and values of truth, including at a personal level. This is almost horrifying, and Akhtar, powerfully and authentically, does not exempt himself from the corrosive influence of this greed. He isn't morally above it all. But some of this analysis felt a little too much opinion column material that you can read from almost any centre-left commentator. Good as far as it goes, but I expect more from a novel than relatively trite (even if true) political analysis.

The strength of this book are the nuanced and beautifully crafted passages in which Akhtar reflects on his experience living through this American moment and coming to terms with it from his particular cultural identitiy and the struggle to understand this, especially in his relationships with his family. Writing from this territory Akhtar is brilliant. This book is also important in terms of offering a considered reflection about the capacity of art and novels to provide a response to this degradation of USA culture over the past decade or so, without overstating that impact. I must say thoughtful literary fiction has sustained me over the past turbulent year and Akhtar's novel is among these restorative and energising works. It isn't comforting but it reminds me that our cultures still produce deeply thoughtful and challenging art.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,188 reviews1,690 followers
November 21, 2020
At the beginning of this brilliant novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning Ayad Akhtar, his father – a renowned cardiologist and an expert in arrhythmia – is treating prized patient Donald Trump in the 1990s. The two form a kind of bond.

We know that Akhtar’s father was, in fact, a famous cardiologist. But did this event happen? Is it true or made up or just enhanced? And, does it really matter?

That is the mastery of this auto-fictional novel that often crosses the boundaries to essays and memoir. Anyone who has followed Ayad Akhtar’s career – and I’ve both read his books and seen his plays performed – will automatically pick up many true details. But they will also sense what is left out and what is toyed with. The only thing is, the reader will never know for sure.

To say this book is courageous is an understatement. To say that it is lacerating and wrenching and self-revelatory is as well. Ayad Akhtar deles deep into what it means to be an American-born Muslim in today’s ‘Murica – the probing questions of strangers, the white-hot anger and categorizing in the days following 9/11, the clashing emotions of being an American who is not really accepted as one.

As the plot threads and weaves across the fortunes and misfortunes of father and son, Akhtar reveals the poison at the heart of the American system: the systemic collapse of the American Dream caused by the distortion of money in our current society—our supreme defining vaue, our sport, and our pastime. He leads us to the seething, about-to-spill-over anger of the rural have-nots (and in doing so, exposes the key reason why Trump won so many of their votes) and the hedonism of the newly and not-so-newly wealthy and the rewards they enjoy.

There are up-close-and-personal views of Akhtar’s dalliance with the prestigious lifestyle as he aligns with a Muslim billionaire hedge fund manager and predatory debt reassignment, college-as-customer-experience rather than higher learning, love and death and syphilis and family bonds. And at the heart of it all is a question: how do we create our authentic selves? Isn’t there a bit of fiction in all of our lives? This book is must reading.
Profile Image for Nadine in California.
957 reviews99 followers
November 5, 2020
I agree with all the accolades this book is getting for its under-the-skin portrayal of being a Muslim American man in the US, the depth of its father-son portrait, and some painfully acute social and political analysis. See esp. page 241-2, where a successful black talent agent in LA gives a brutal analysis of the failure of liberalism and the rise of Trump that's even more of a punch in the face now, in the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election. And oh my god, the writing. The page-long first sentence alone is a masterpiece - Benjamin Dreyer would salute its punctuation.

But in the face of all this brilliance, I still find myself put off by an autofiction that on occasion brings me too close to a type of alpha maleness and class sycophancy that rubs me the wrong way and makes me feel Like Madame deFarge. It's a testament to the writing that I feel this so strongly.
Profile Image for Darryl Suite.
521 reviews417 followers
December 14, 2020
Akhtar labels this work as a novel, and who am I to challenge him on that? But, truthfully, this book reads more like a collection of essays or even a memoir. I feel as if I need to take a deep breath every time I pick it up. For example: The first chapter examines the rise of Trump’s political power. And let me tell you, no stone is left unturned. I have struggled with understanding what people initially saw in Trump; how so many ignored his dangerous message; how so many people dismissed him as a “showman” and didn’t take his ideology seriously. This chapter laid it all out on the table. And Akhtar uses his own relationship with his father as a way to explore this calamitous change in the nation. That’s just chapter one.

Akhtar goes on to explore themes on 9/11, Indian/Pakistan partition, Muslim cultural identity, family dynamics, American life, Salman Rushdie, etc. Yes, I said Salman Rushdie. This work is intense and quite the unique reading experience. Right now, I'm only able to take it a chapter at a time, if even that. I haven’t read anything like it all year. And it’s truly blowing my mind. We use the word “explosive” so casually these days, but this book is truly worthy of the word. I don’t know where it is going to lead, or if I’ll remain loving it by the end, but I am certainly excited to find out. I don’t believe this book will be for everyone. It’s wordy, it’s dense, it’s sometimes jarring, and explores some weighty themes. If you’re looking for a traditionally structured novel with an arc and full-blown characterizations, you won’t find that here. But if this book intrigues you even in the slightest, please give it a chance. It is worthy of your attention.

Admittedly, it can be a bit overwritten and self-indulgent at times, but damn, is this a ferocious piece of literature. My head is still spinning. My brain is still scrambled.
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,912 reviews248 followers
November 11, 2020
I wouldn't be surprised to see Akhtar win another Pulitzer prize for his latest fictional novel that runs along the razor's edge of being a memoir. What identifies a great novel in my mind is one that shines a light on part of the human condition that one has never really considered before. What is it like to be identified as 'other' in your own homeland, the place of your birth?

Ayad Akhtar is an award-winning Pakistani-American playwright, born on Staten Island, raised in Wisconsin, with parents who are both doctors--his father a rather famous cardiologist who has even treated Donald Trump. His father is a great lover of everything American; his mother, not so much. "Love for America and a firm belief in its supremacy--moral and otherwise--was creed in our home, one my mother knew not to challenge even if she didn't quite share it.'

Much of this story is about the conflicting way father and son see what's important in life, what makes a person successful. His father has a different experience of life in America. As his close friend Sultan says, 'They call it a melting pot, but it's not. In chemistry, they have what they call a buffer solution--which keeps things together but always separated. That's what this country is. A buffer solution.'

After 9/11, Akhtar becomes aware of being considered 'other' just because of his appearance, judging him to be a little suspicious and perhaps even dangerous. He finds himself trying to be conciliatory in difficult situations, like when his car breaks down and a state trooper stops to help and questions where he is from. Later, he is taken advantage of for similar reasons--is it best not to rock the boat?

But Akhtar also examines our materialistic society, the rise of Trumpism, and our crumbling image in the world. When did obtaining wealth replace all of the lofty moral ideals this country once stood for? Wait--this is not new though: Walt Whitman, 150 years ago, saw 'a country of endless energy, enterprise and breadth--both natural and human--but ensnared in a materialism from which it couldn't seem to escape. Back then, Whitman worried America's preoccupation with the business of making money would lead to the failure of its historic mission.' Will change come because it has to?

This is an excellent, thought-provoking novel. If your eyes have recently been opened to the reality that not every American is treated justly and fairly, this book will add even more to that awakening knowledge and understanding.

I received an arc from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks for the opportunity to read Akhtar's fine novel.
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