Tuesday, July 31, 2012

American Dervish - Ayad Akhtar (Audio)

At SIBA last fall, there was a tremendous buzz about this book.  The publisher, Hachette, was bubbling over about it's positive initial reception, and insisted all the bloggers take a copy.  


I know I'm probably going to sound like a shallow, predictable American by comparing my initial glance at "American Dervish" to "Cutting For Stone".  Yes, both books are a coming-of-age novel about Indian boys, there are family issues and religious issues, and...the short synopsis for both did not inspire me.


It took me 2 1/2 years to finally tackle "Cutting For Stone"...and I loved it.  I sat on my copy of "American Dervish" for 8 months before trusted audio file Literary Housewife raved about this book in the audio format and that pushed me to take the plunge.  


Synopsis: Hyatt Shah is a bright pre-pubescent boy, the only son of an upper middle-class Pakistani-American family that lives in Milwaukee.  His father is a doctor who has turned his back on his religion and has flagrant affairs, his mother is a tortured stay-at-homer who uses her son as a therapist for her marital woes.  


The whole family dynamic shifts when Hyatt's mother's best friend Mina and her son come to live with them after a failed marriage in Pakistan.  Mina is dynamic and beautiful, and awakens both Hyatt's sexuality and religious awareness.  In Hyatt's fervor to please Mina, he vows to become Koran scholar, which is unforgivable in the eyes of his father.  Additional tension is introduced when Mina falls in love with a Jewish colleague of Hyatt's father.


This ambitious debut novel delivers a rich array of complex conflicts in the Pakistani culture, such as misogyny, anti-Semitism (and general bigotry), old-world tradition versus the new generation, familial roles and hierarchies, and the difficulty of making sense of it all from a young boy's perspective.


My thoughts:  The tricky part about really selling the beauty of this book is how to write a synopsis that captures the imagination.  Yes yes yes, religion, growing up, family drama.  On paper, it sounds a little high-brow and over-wrought.  But it isn't.  It is gorgeous.


The prose is lush and confident in its mission.  The plot is so multi-layered and complicated, I was gripped throughout the entire book, almost as if I were reading a murder mystery!  The characters are not always sympathetic personalities...the father cheats, the mother is a martyr, Mina allows herself to be a pawn, and Hyatt makes some very bad decisions that have far-reaching impacts on people's lives.  There was conflict and tension oozing out of every chapter...there were times when I was spellbound and just couldn't stop listening.  


The level of hatred that Muslims have towards Jews, and their specific beliefs on WHY the Jews deserve this animosity, shocked me.  I found this insight enlightening and jarring.  And horrifying.  Yet with such an inflammatory topic, Akhtar handles it with delicacy and grace.  In fact, this was not the only subject that was explosive here, but Akhtar navigates through them all with the skill of a seasoned writer.


A few words about the audio production:  Had I not read Literate Housewife's review, I would have been nervous about the fact that the author narrates his own book.  But he was wonderful, as promised.  While he may not have had a wide range of vocals, his accents and his earnestness was such a pleasure to listen to.  I would hope that in all his future novels, he chooses to narrate them all.


Listening length:  9 hours and 28 minutes (368 pages)




4.5 out of 5 stars     





24 comments:

bermudaonion said...

I really need to make the time to get to this book soon!!

Meg @ write meg! said...

Well, you've convinced me! I've been trying to broaden my reading beyond strictly American characters lately, and I love exploring different cultures through my reading. Sounds like I would enjoy this one on audio, too!

Literate Housewife said...

I am so glad you loved this, too! The scene about the religion between Hyatt and his father has stayed with me to this day. Powerful audio.

Anita said...

I have this in print,but you make the audio sound awfully tempting. Thanks for an enticing review.

Zibilee said...

This is a book that has been on my shelf for ages, and I haven't gotten to it yet. I might have to jump on board with the audio version, as it sounds like something that shouldn't be missed. I do get what you are saying about the synopsis. It sounds sort of dull, but the fact is, that for most of the readers out there, it has been dynamic and dramatic. I think your review is finally going to push me into reading this one! Great job!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I was definitely not a fan of this book!

JoAnn said...

Literate Housewife's review got me to add this to my wish list, but I'll need to move it up since you loved it, too!

Julie P. said...

I am so glad that you enjoyed this novel. I absolutely adored it in print and I think it's pretty darn cool that the author reads it himself!

Jenny said...

Well I think this has nothing on Cutting for Stone but I still enjoyed this. I thought the narrator was great too! I guess he's an actor so that makes sense but I was impressed with him.

Tasha B. said...

Are authors usually not that great at narrating their own work?

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I had heard about this one the same as you, but it did get lost in the crowd. You are very right about the big themes sounding a little bit daunting at times. I'll keep it in mind for when I need a good coming of age novel.

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Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I have yet to read this book ... I do have a print edition, I wonder if it holds up as well as the audio? The buzz is/was fantastic (so many books, so little time)

softdrink said...

When I first saw this book I wanted to read it, but all of the other reviews I read made it seem a little blah. Suddenly, I want to read it again!

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Melissa said...

I still haven't gotten to Cutting for Stone either. It's one that I look at each time I log onto the library to find a book, but I just can't get motivated for it. I've added this one to my list too, but am afraid it might get put on the back burner too...