Author: Ayad Akhtar
Published: January 9, 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Warning: adult content including sexual situations that some readers may find offensive. Also, physical abuse.
Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.
Mina is Hayat's mother's oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah's doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat's skeptical father can't deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family's Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina's side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher. When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true. Just as Mina finds happiness, Hayat is compelled to act—with devastating consequences for all those he loves most. American Dervish is a brilliantly written, nuanced, and emotionally forceful look inside the interplay of religion and modern life. Ayad Akhtar was raised in the Midwest himself, and through Hayat Shah he shows readers vividly the powerful forces at work on young men and women growing up Muslim in America. This is an intimate, personal first novel that will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.
— Publisher’s Summary
When I picked up a copy of American Dervish, I was immediately immersed in the story and didn't want to put the book down. Ayad Akhtar writes compellingly with a great talent for pulling the reader into the story with characters so realistic and imperfectly flawed that we feel an intimate knowledge of each person therein.
American Dervish is the story of a Muslim family in America, with a great deal of reference to the Quran, the teachings of the Muslim religion and how time and maturity and experience can change how one interprets anything, including religious texts. There are a great number of trials, even amongst the community of fellow Muslims, and their perceptions of one another are often a source of contention amongst themselves. There are characters we come to admire, to empathize with, and others we loathe. That's how well developed they are.
In saying all this, how wonderfully planned and executed this entire book is, there are portions I take exception to. Vividly detailed descriptions of a boy's coming of age and of the act of sex was blatantly portrayed in the novel. In my personal opinion, American Dervish would have been much better without all the graphic details! It deterred from the story that, up to that point, I had been enjoying.
One more thing: I know that there are misunderstandings about many cultures and religions but it would have been nice for the author to have researched the Mormons a little more. Perhaps it is not that it wasn't researched, but that amongst some, it is a running joke, so he included it in American Dervish to show contrasts and the limited understanding of some based on lack of knowledge. Let me set the scene a bit so you know to what I refer: As a few boys talk while attending a wedding, one mentions multiple wives and that, while in their homeland it is a common practice, that in the States it is not. It is said by one that you would have to move to Utah where Mormons have more than one wife. Let me just make it known that it is not true. Mormons do NOT practice polygamy. Not in Utah. Not anywhere.
That being said, American Dervish helps us, the American and Canadian born and raised, understand the difficult transition it can be for those of other faiths and/or cultures to acclimatize to an entirely new life. With a few exceptions, as noted previously, American Dervish tells a compelling tale of transitions, loyalty, love and honour in a book that may just make it to the big screen.