Literary Fiction by People of Color discussion

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book discussions > Discussion: American Dervish

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message 1: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I'm planning to get started on American Dervish: A Novel this week, and I was wondering if anyone else is making progress on our book for March.


message 2: by George (new)

George | 759 comments I have it, just haven't started it yet. I suppose it's time to admit I won't finish the current selection before Spring.


message 3: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I hope than some others will be getting started soon.


message 4: by Jean (new)

Jean | 140 comments I'm at about the half-way mark.


message 5: by Adrienna (new)

Adrienna (adriennaturner) | 625 comments Sorry, I am still working on Feb read and might have to pass this month. thanks.


message 6: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments I am starting it tonight.


message 7: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
I have 5 hours audio before I finish 1Q84, so should finish this weekend, then will start the March BOM.


message 8: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments I'm not sure either yet, Rebecca. I hope to finish in time for the discussion. Is there anyone who would like to lead the discussion this time?


message 9: by Rebecca (last edited Feb 28, 2012 05:32AM) (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Her is an NPR article on American Dervish. May contain spoilers

http://www.npr.org/2012/01/17/1453344...

Mina chapter 7 is intresting. There is some good discussion,questioning,thought amongst Naveed an his friends. It's fun to see the different views and personalities too.


message 10: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Great, Rebecca! Would you like to lead the discussion of this book?


message 11: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Rebecca has agreed to lead our discussion! We will be ready to begin on Thursday, March 1. Thank you, Rebecca!


message 12: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments It's March 1, the starting date for out discussion of American Dervish: A Novel by Ayad Akhtar. Here's a little biographical information about Aktar:

Ayad Akhtar is an American-born, first generation Pakistani-American from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He holds degrees in Theater from Brown University and in Directing from the Graduate Film Program at Columbia University, where he won multiple awards for his work. He is the author of numerous screenplays and was star and co-writer of The War Within, which premiered at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay and an International Press Academy Satellite Award for Best Picture - Drama. American Dervish is his first novel.

Here's the NYT book review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/boo...

And I'll turn the discussion over to Rebecca!


message 13: by Rebecca (last edited Mar 01, 2012 01:40AM) (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Thank you Mina!!
Welcome to our discussion of American Dervish. I am pretty informal and like to see the discussion evolve and take shape as we go along. I look forward to your thoughts and to see what other have noticed and enjoyed too. Chime in with anything at anytime.

I find it fun to know What experience did everyone have with getting a hold of this book? With ease or with difficulty? Where are you in your progress with the novel?

Some questions to start us off?

A large percentage voted for this book. What appealed to you about this novel and led
you to read it? Is this work impressive?

In general how do you feel about the novels construction is it flat at times?
Uncomfortable? Do you feel as if you know where the author s leading us? Confusion?
where? Why

This is a coming of age story. What are your impressions of how it this novel was written as such?


message 14: by Jennifer (last edited Mar 01, 2012 12:46PM) (new)

Jennifer (jennbh) Read this book in January after attaining an ARC at Book Expo last year. I have to say I was very disappointed with this book and in the willy-nilly marketing it was given at BEA as "The next Kite Runner" when it had NOTHING in common with it besides the main characters were from the same continent, not even country.

This is a coming-of-age story but the narrator is not in the action very much and is a child watching things happen and not even seeing characters mature or get better. No one seems to grow especially the narrator in this piece. It's very thoughtful in that he thinks he understands but does he really? Coming-of-age texts usually mean that there's an arc, a shift in the main character if not the others and I didn't see that. From page 1 to the end he just went with the flow really and watched and waited, interfering only in one way that would hurt someone he loved but even that action was more about someone not standing up for themselves. By the end, which I won't ruin for those reading or about to read it was rushed completely and told as if it was a quick newspaper article with very little emotion. There was a lot of material that could've been touched upon but instead got thrown to the wayside in favor of spending too much time in the younger years of the narrator and him observing adult behavior, but did he learn from it or not? That, as readers, we don't really find out.

The construction was quite flat for me as we remained in certain areas of his life far too long and much of the book, well, all was observation so the core drama was seen by the narrator but not so much experienced. It wasn't uncomfortable but not the strongest way to go about telling this story.

I think Akhtar was trying to pull people into a world they may not know but in reality I felt that this didn't differ too much from experiences my family had been through in their youth during Civil Rights with race and religion being major factors in the dissolution of America at the time. I'm still trying to understand what he wanted readers to take from this text being that we felt so removed. Perhaps he was trying to be symbolic with the narrator feeling removed and so the reader should feel that way also?


message 15: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
Rebecca wrote: "Thank you Mina!!
Welcome to our discussion of American Dervish. I am pretty informal and like to see the discussion evolve and take shape as we go along. I look forward to your thoughts and to se..."


I had liked what the pre-publication blurb said about the book though I am not a big fan of coming-of-age stories.
But I have since since the book publication there have been a lot of less than stellar reviews and mention of a lot of cliches.

I have not started the book - there has been a long queue at my library for this book since it was on order.

Since I have read the other books on the poll that I was interested in - I voted for this one.

Will be back with more comments once I have started the book - I am assuming since it has been mentioned that it has a YA feel it should be a quick read.


message 16: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
Jennifer wrote: "Read this book in January after attaining an ARC at Book Expo last year. I have to say I was very disappointed with this book and in the willy-nilly marketing it was given at BEA as "The next Kite ..."

One of my new pet peeves (as it seems to be happening more and more these days or I am just noticing) is the marketing blurb comparing a book to a past bestseller/reader fav, even as you mentioned it does not even come close to being similar (at least in my book).
This raises my expectations of the story and then when it does not live up to the billing - I feel disappointed in the book and probably more let down then if I had read without that comparison.


message 17: by George (new)

George | 759 comments well, it's clearly not the Kite Runner. this isn't something written in exile out of some sense of nostalgia or some effort to deal with a sense of loss. but it's not bad either.

I'm about 150 pages into it. I'd be further, but I left it in my dentist's office and now I've got to find the time to go back. I voted for it, because it is what it is, an American Muslim trying to balence questions of faith and his dueling national identies, US and Pakistani. Plus, I lived in Pakistan for a bit, and I can relate to a certain extent.


message 18: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1288 comments Mod
I don't think its a YA book at all. Unless you feel its YA because the protagonist is a young adult. But the themes of religion, politics, world views, sex, fundamentalism vs liberalism vs atheism and the violation and oppression of women are all quite adult themes explored in the work.
I think that sometimes the coming of age theme of the book was subsumed by the almost pathological obsession of the the boy with his aunt...to my great annoyance.


message 19: by Rebecca (last edited Mar 01, 2012 03:52PM) (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments I agree George not a bad book but for me just okay. I guess the writing of it style was simplistic more YA to me not necessarily the topics William. As a reader many of our past reads have challenged me, but this one did not.
Jennifer I think we share some of the same sentiments of about the book. I too was frustrated with the characters. The storyline was all over the place and for me wasn't tidy so therefore I thought the ending rushed to in an attempt to reslolve situations but does he really?

I felt the same William. I saw the relationship between Mina and Hyat more of an obsession/lust than love.

Where was the LOVE? I guess I missed it. There was some intimacy when they would study together but I don't think just because Hayat hassexual awakening that it was
love.


message 20: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments George would you tell us about your experience in Pakistan and how you can relate. Good point. Having a personal connection brings different views.


message 21: by George (last edited Mar 02, 2012 04:37AM) (new)

George | 759 comments not all that much to it, really. I worked there with an NGO processing Afghan refugees for a while and worked with various Pakistanis.so, I just knew more Pakistanis than the average American and have been exposed to the various thoughts and attitudes you see in the book.I've lived and worked in other Muslim countries as well.


message 22: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Do you think that the attitudes portrayed in this book are representative of the spectrum of attitudes you have encountered, George? That was one of my main questions reading this book, because I have had relatively few encounters with Pakistanis or Pakistani-Americans.


message 23: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments I was going to ask the same. I was curious to know as well. :)


message 24: by Rebecca (last edited Mar 02, 2012 11:59AM) (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments I have written to the contact for Ayad and she tells me Ayad would love to participate in our discussion. I will email her with the link to Goodreads. Is there anything else I need to do Mina? I have never requested an author before?


message 25: by George (last edited Mar 02, 2012 03:28PM) (new)

George | 759 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "Do you think that the attitudes portrayed in this book are representative of the spectrum of attitudes you have encountered, George? That was one of my main questions reading this book, because I h..."

well, in my experience, I'd have to say there's nothing terribly surprising in the attitudes I've come across so far in the story line. Do people often feel a sense of contempt for US/Western culture and materialism? yes, certainly. for one thing, it helps make up for a sense of technical/scientific/developmentental inferiority that many people find hard to accept, given that the Islamic world was once far superior to the West in these areas. do people carry over their attitudes towards women from home into the US and elsewhere? yes, definitely, and you do see incidents of honor killings, and other things in the US and other Western countries as some families can't bring themselves to allow their children to adjust to cultural norms here. others bundle their kids back to the old country so they won't be too damaged by Western societies, that sort of thing.

actually, for me the more interesting character is the narrator, who's trying to work out his feelings over Islam and his surroundings and who's emersed himself in the West. not sure where that's going as of yet.


message 26: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Rebecca wrote: "I have written to the contact for Ayad and she tells me Ayad would love to participate in our discussion. I will email her with the link to Goodreads. Is there anything else I need to do Mina? I ha..."

That's fantastic, Rebecca! He would need to join Goodreads and our group. Since he already has a Goodreads profile, he can use this link to join:

http://www.goodreads.com/author/confi...

We have a number of authors in this group and it would be great to have him participate in the discussion.


message 27: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany Anderson (miss5elements) | 153 comments Rebecca wrote: "I have written to the contact for Ayad and she tells me Ayad would love to participate in our discussion. I will email her with the link to Goodreads. Is there anything else I need to do Mina? I ha..."

Great job, Rebecca! I'm about to start reading the novel today. I'm still swept up by "1Q84" - but I'm getting my priorities straight. It would be great to have the author join the discussion.


message 28: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Glad to have you joining the read Tiffany. I am just starting 1Q84. I am not far but it so far.

I have emailed his contact our time frame and also the link for him to join. Thank you Mina.

I will let everyone know more when I hear something.


message 29: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments The cast of characters we meet in American Dervish. Did a certain character appeal to you? Why?

Where you surprised with the actions of some of any of the characters?


message 30: by William (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1288 comments Mod
Despite his flaws, philandering, alcoholism, and emotional withdrawal, the father Naveed seemed to me to have the most common sense and be the most rational.


message 31: by Ayad (new)

Ayad Akhtar Hi all, Ayad here. Looking forward to being part of the discussion...


message 32: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Thank you so much for joining the discussion, Ayad. Your book was selected by voting in a poll we conduct monthly. With all of our selections, there is a wide range of opinions about the book. We hope that you will accept our comments in the spirit of open discussion. Your book opens new territory for us as a group - the Pakistani-American community. I have wondered how closely Hayat's experiences are based on your own life. Would you consider the range of characters in this book to be fairly typical of the Pakistani-American experience?

(Rebecca - Thanks so much for bringing Ayad to the discussion!)


message 33: by George (new)

George | 759 comments yes, that's quite a feat. Nice to have your personal point of view on all this, Ayad.


message 34: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments Welcome Ayad, I thank you for joining our discussion. We have a great group. We hope you feel comfortable and enjoy yourself.

Rebecca


message 35: by William (last edited Mar 04, 2012 10:17PM) (new)

William (be2lieve) | 1288 comments Mod
Many tales of second generation immigrants to America focus on the problems of them adjusting to Western culture and the problems they cause when they adopt the culture to the consternation of the first generation. This book is different in that Hayat seems a throwback. He in essence embraces the Old World culture of his parents that even his father has rejected. Hayat is so deeply in love with his beautiful Aunt that he wants to be more of a fundamentalist Muslim than even his parents can commit to.
It seems quite a load for a pre-pubescent lad to bear. Aunt Mina's beauty must have been other-worldly to inspire a youth so. I understand that she facilitated his sexual awakening but even so...
Although Hayat was motivated by the desire and crush of his puppy love for his Aunt his actions contained the aspirations of the entire older generation of Muslims for a return to the structure and culture of the first generation, which has reluctantly adapted to a new environment and country.


message 36: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm going to read an ebook. The title is All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica McCann. Hope it's good.


message 37: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
When I finished this book I was reminded that some books are "ideal" for book discussions because of the questions/discussion points that they raise in your mind when finish reading. American Dervish I believe is one of the those books.
One of the techniques that I liked about this book was that the author would paint a broad scene and then focus his eye on one aspect of the scene while at times I wanted to focus more on another aspect of the scene. This allowed for me as a reader to more slivers of life than if focused on one issue or two.
I have always enjoyed immigrant stories - how a person reacts to the "American" culture, and acclimates to the American culture. How does their opinion of America change once here. The differences between the first and second generations. How having a different language/religion from the "main" American culture.


message 38: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
The character that evoked the most emotion for me in the book was Mina, but then I came to realize that I was looking at her through my eyes. Once I looked at her as an abused/broken spirit woman then her actions/reactions made sense. Her faith and her son was the only thing that kept her going. Her interpretation of her faith was in one aspect a sign of rebellion and on the other hand provided a place of comfort to realize what was happening to in her life.
Her son was a life line and so wanted him to have a "father" in his life - I wondered if her behavior would have been different if the son was a daughter.


message 39: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Beverly wrote: "Her son was a life line and so wanted him to have a "father" in his life - I wondered if her behavior would have been different if the son was a daughter...."

Interesting thought, Beverly. Mina was the character I found most interesting as well. I liked the way that she sought the essence of her faith rather than the way that others used the words of the Quran to justify their actions and reinforce their own bigotry and abuse.


message 40: by Ayad (new)

Ayad Akhtar Rebecca, George, Wilhelmina!

Thank you for the warm welcome. Looking forward to this. And feel not only comfortable, but honored that you have all chosen AD and given your precious time to the book.

To answer your question W, the novel is very much fiction in the sense that the things that happen to Hayat, and that he does, don't mirror my life. That said, so much of the texture and detail and feel of the story is taken from personal experience, observation, things I heard or saw growing up, composites of people I knew. In answer to the question of if the characters are typical of the Indo-Pak Muslim community, allow me to say a couple of things for the purposes of context: There has been some controversy about the representations in the book. Some have felt that certain characters are not fairly represented, or they are uni-dimensionally represented. I think it's interesting that the only two Pakistani Muslim women to review the book for publications of record have both commented on the startling authenticity of the representations. The debate over how AD represents Muslims is informed by the political climate we are currently living through, in which there is real and rampant Islamophobia. This is precisely why I set the book 30 years ago, so that I would not have to be beholden to the politics of representation in order to tell this story. I am trying to do many things with the novel, notably, to offer a (hopefully) compelling alloy of familiar American genres, but set in a unique, heretofore-unwritten about setting; I am also trying to tell a universal story about faith, and the ways it is inextricably linked to doubt; and finally, I am trying to critique certain ways that the Muslim community has in its approach to the Quran, ways of looking at the scripture that have prevailed for a thousand years and that are in need of renewal.

Hope this wasn't too much information!


message 41: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments Ayad wrote: "Hope this wasn't too much information!.."

Not at all, Ayad. This is wonderful!

How interesting that both Pakistani Muslim woman reviewers felt that the portrayals were authentic. The women in this book broke my heart, particularly Mina. All of Mina's efforts to live a complete life, both spiritually and otherwise, were thwarted.

I don't want to jump too far ahead for those who are still reading, so I will stop here and let Rebecca lead the way!


message 42: by Adrienna (new)

Adrienna (adriennaturner) | 625 comments Wilhelmina wrote: "Ayad wrote: "Hope this wasn't too much information!.."

Not at all, Ayad. This is wonderful!

How interesting that both Pakistani Muslim woman reviewers felt that the portrayals were authentic. The..."


Now you make me want to pick up a copy and read it.


message 43: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany Anderson (miss5elements) | 153 comments Adrienna wrote: "Wilhelmina wrote: "Ayad wrote: "Hope this wasn't too much information!.."

Not at all, Ayad. This is wonderful!

How interesting that both Pakistani Muslim woman reviewers felt that the portrayals ..."


I'm just starting the novel and am putting aside my fear of spoilers just to participate in the discussion. Seconding everyone else with a warm welcome Ayad!


message 44: by Rebecca (last edited Mar 05, 2012 10:34PM) (new)

Rebecca | 386 comments I felt the same about Mina. Ayad can you tell us more about The relationship between Mina and Hyat?. For me it was hard to exactly define what it was exactly at times. Tell us what you hoped to show the reader? I really commend your ability to show us complex relationships that weren't always "pretty" to probably expose. Was it easy or difficult for you as a writer?
The relationship with Naveed and his wife is also complex? Did you want the reader to form an opinion about relationships in the culture? I know I thought does anyone have a fighting chance to survive?

The question of some characters being one demensional? Can others see this?

Mina, I think it's great to make others curious and want to pick the book. I hope I am not jumping all over too much.


message 45: by Wilhelmina (new)

Wilhelmina Jenkins | 2049 comments You're doing great, Rebecca! Take the discussion in any direction you choose. We're with you.


message 46: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
Ayad wrote: "Rebecca, George, Wilhelmina!

Thank you for the warm welcome. Looking forward to this. And feel not only comfortable, but honored that you have all chosen AD and given your precious time to the boo..."


Welcome Ayad -

Thanks for joining us.
I also like to hear the author's pov and it helps enhance my reading.
I thought you did a good job with showing the Muslim community approached the Quram and hopefully many will find this informative.
And yes, it was an universal story of faith as while reading this story I could not help but compare to the current political discussion on defining who is a "Christian" among the Republican presidential candidates and others.


message 47: by Beverly (new)

Beverly | 2880 comments Mod
Rebecca wrote: "I felt the same about Mina. Ayad can you tell us more about The relationship between Mina and Hyat?. For me it was hard to exactly define what it was exactly at times. Tell us what you hoped to sh..."

Great questions Rebecca - I would like to add one more question to Ayad that is along the same thread - The story was written about the specific two years of a point in time - how challenges did this present when presenting the characters - do you want to write more about the past events lives of the characters especially prior to them migrating to the US or their lives prior to the US. While you provided some background information on the characters - most were interesting enough that I wanted to know "who" they were before we see them in the story.


message 48: by Ayad (new)

Ayad Akhtar Rebecca wrote: "I felt the same about Mina. Ayad can you tell us more about The relationship between Mina and Hyat?. For me it was hard to exactly define what it was exactly at times. Tell us what you hoped to sh..."

Hi Rebecca -

Great questions...

The relationship between Hayat and Mina is obviously very complex. In the Sufi tradition -- which is the mystical wing of the Islamic tradition -- one of the images that is used to express the longing for and union with the divine is the image of romantic love. The aspirant is seen as one who is pining with love for the love object, that love object is a symbol of the divine. We see this sort of imagery in Dante's Divine Comedy, with the image of Beatrice as the vehicle of Dante's progress toward the divine source. So it is for Hayat with Mina. He is experiencing an awakening not only of his spirit, but of the body as well. At that moment in his life when soul and body are still not separate. Of coures, this is the metaphor, but there is also the reality. And the other side of their relationship, the human side, has its darker aspects too. Mina is flawed, like all of us, and she perhaps doesn't recognized until it's too late that Hayat is perhaps not ready for a lot of what she is teaching him. Moreover, there is an undeveloped part of Mina, the part that hasn't been allowed to express itself and explore because of the repressive male dominated environment in which she has been raised. All of this plays into the relationship with Hayat.

As for your question about the parents' relationship, one of the challenges about writing about a community that has never really been represented before is that what you write people will take as emblematic of the entire community. Of course, I could never write any book that would ever do justice to all the sorts of folks that fall into the category of Muslim-American. No one would ever expect that from a writer writing about a white contemporary American family. The quirks of characters in a book like Family Fang, or Revolutionary Road are not taken to be stand-ins for every American family. How could they!

As a writer I am focused on making the characters live and breathe. I am not concerned with what they represent. To me, as an artist, I have a twin aesthetic principle: That the work must be guided by a pursuit of the truth; and that it must give pleasure. Both parts of that mandate are central to my practice as an artist. And as long as I am focused on that, I believe the rest will take care of itself.


message 49: by Ayad (new)

Ayad Akhtar Beverly wrote: "Ayad wrote: "Rebecca, George, Wilhelmina!

Thank you for the warm welcome. Looking forward to this. And feel not only comfortable, but honored that you have all chosen AD and given your precious ti..."


Thank you for the welcome Beverly.


message 50: by Ayad (new)

Ayad Akhtar Beverly wrote: "Rebecca wrote: "I felt the same about Mina. Ayad can you tell us more about The relationship between Mina and Hyat?. For me it was hard to exactly define what it was exactly at times. Tell us wha..."

That's an interesting question I haven't gotten before, Beverly.

I think of myself as primarily a dramatic writer. My background is in screenwriting and I am also a playwright. As such, I am more focused on revealing character through action and dialogue...in the present. Something that novels do which is wonderful is the way they can give you back story. But somehow, it didn't seem as natural to me, or essential, in the telling of this story. That probably comes more from my habits as a dramatic artist. And likely with the next novel, I'll probably take more advantage of the freedom that a novel allows you to move around in time. Sometimes from one sentence to the next!


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Literary Fiction by People of Color

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