Review: American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

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Image: Hyphen Magazine

For some odd reason (read: school!), I forgot to post this review of Ayad Akhtar’s debut novel American Dervish. Akhtar is primarily a screenwriter and this influence is especially visible in how he handles plot and plot twists but sometimes, it seeps into the writing itself, which I wish it didn’t.

Despite its flaws, American Dervish is a strong debut and tells the story of growing up Muslim in mid-western America. It’s a coming-of-age story that is complicated by forbidden love, religious tension and a clash of cultural values. Below is an excerpt and click here for full review.

“Ayad Akhtar’s first novel, American Dervish, is a coming-of-age story about a young American Muslim, Hayat Shah, who grows up in 1980s Milwaukee. Raised by secular Muslim parents, Hayat’s first real encounter with Islam begins when his mother’s best friend from Pakistan, Mina, arrives with her five-year old son, Imran, to live with the Shahs. For years, Mina has been nothing but a photograph to Hayat and a character in his mother’s romantic reminiscences of her childhood in Pakistan. Upon entering his life, Mina not only captures Hayat’s heart but also his soul, acting as his teacher as she navigates him through the world of Islam. Through their nightly readings of the Quran, Hayat — who is captivated by Mina’s beauty — also falls in love with the religion. His religious awakening is thus painfully and often confusingly enmeshed with his sexual awakening. When Mina begins dating a Jewish doctor, Nathan, Hayat’s jealousy rears its ugly head. At the same time, Hayat is exposed to anti-semitic sentiments from within his own community, and soon he begins to regard Nathan not just as a competitor but also as an unfit human being. Determined to save his beloved Mina, Hayat embarks on a path of destruction that will not only tear their love apart but also leave him emotionally scarred for the rest of his life.”

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