By Ayad Akhtar
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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.
American Dervish is a brilliantly written, nuanced, and emotionally forceful look inside the interplay of religion and modern life.
I remember it all with a vividness that marks the moment as the watershed it would be:
The court was glowing, its wooden surface honey-brown beneath the overhead lights. Along the edges, players huddled with their coaches, and beyond, we were gathered, the clamoring rows upon rows of us, eager for the timeout to end.
Below, I spied the vendor approaching: a burly man, thick around the waist, with a crimson-brown ponytail dropping from beneath the back of his black-and-orange cap, our school colors. "Brats and wieners!" he cried. "Brats and wieners!"
I nodded, raising my hand. He nodded back, stopping three rows down to serve another customer first. I turned to my friends and asked them if they wanted anything.
Beer and bratwurst, each of them said.
"I don't think he's got beer, guys," I replied.
Out on the court, the players were returning to their positions for the last minute of the half. The crowd was getting to its feet.
Below, the vendor made change, then lifted the metal box to his waist and mounted the steps to settle at the edge of our row.
"You have beer?" one of my friends asked.
"Just brats and wieners."
"So two bratwurst and a beef dog," I said.
With a clipped nod, he tossed open the cover of his box and reached inside. I waved away my friends' bills, pulling out my wallet. The vendor handed me three shiny packets, soft and warm to the touch.
"Beef wiener's on top. That's nine altogether."
I handed off the brats, and paid.
Cheers erupted as our side raced down the court, driving to the basket. I unwrapped my packet only to find I wasn't holding a beef frank, but a marbled, brown-and-white pork bratwurst.
"Guys? Anyone have the beef dog?" I shouted over the crowd's noise at my friends.
Both shook their heads. They were holding bratwurst as well.
I turned back to the aisle to call out to the vendor when I stopped. What reason did I have anymore not to eat it?
None at all, I thought.
We drove to the basket again, where we were fouled. When the whistle shrieked, the roar was deafening.
I lifted the sausage to my mouth, closed my eyes, and took a bite. My heart raced as I chewed, my mouth filling with a sweet and smoky, lightly pungent taste that seemed utterly remarkable—perhaps all the more so for having been so long forbidden. I felt at once brave and ridiculous. And as I swallowed, an eerie stillness came over me.
I looked up at the ceiling.
It was still there. Not an inch closer to falling in.
After the game, I walked along the campus quad alone, the walkway's lamps glowing in the mist, white blossoms on a balmy November night. The wet air swirled and blew. I felt alive as I moved. Free along my limbs. Even giddy.
Back at the dorm, I stood before the bathroom mirror. My shoulders looked different. Not huddled, but open. Unburdened. My eyes drew my gaze, and there I saw what I was feeling: something quiet, strong, still.
I felt like I was complete.
I slept soundly that night, held in restful sleep like a baby in a mother's loving arms. When I finally heard my alarm, it was a quarter of nine. The room was awash in sunlight. It was Thursday, which meant I had Professor Edelstein's Survey of Islamic History in fifteen minutes. As I slipped into my jeans, I was startled by the bright prickle of new denim against my skin. The previous night's wonders were apparently still unfolding.
Outside, it was another unseasonably warm and windy day. After hurrying over to the Student Union for a cup of tea, I rushed to Schirmer Hall, Quran tucked under my arm, spilling hot water as I ran. I didn't like being late for Edelstein's class. I needed to be certain I would find a place near the back—close to the window he kept cracked open—where I would have the space quietly to reel and contemplate as the diminutive, magnetic Edelstein continued to take his weekly sledgehammer to what still remained of my childhood faith. And there was something else that kept me in the back of the room:
It was where Rachel sat.
Professor Edelstein looked fresh and formal in a variation on his usual pastel medley: an impeccably pressed mauve oxford, topped and tightened at the neck by a rose-pink bow tie, and suspenders matching the auburn shade of newly polished penny loafers.
He greeted me with a warm smile as I entered. "Hey, Hayat."
I wove my way through the desks to the corner where I usually sat, and where lovely Rachel was munching on a cookie.
"How was the game?"
She nodded, the corners of her lips curling coyly upward as she held my gaze. It was looks like this—her bright blue eyes sparkling—that had made me hazard the invitation to the game the night prior. I'd been wanting to ask her out on a date all semester. But when I'd finally gotten up the courage, she'd told me she had to study.
"You want some?" she asked. "It's oatmeal raisin."
She broke off a piece and handed it to me. "You do the reading for today?" she asked.
"Didn't need to."
"I already know the chapters he wanted us to read…by heart."
"You do?" Rachel's eyes widened with surprise.
"I grew up memorizing that stuff," I explained. "It's a whole production some Muslim kids go through. You memorize the Quran…They call it being a hafiz."
"Really?" She was impressed.
I shrugged. "Not that I remember much of it anymore. But I happen to remember the chapters he assigned for today…"
At the front of the class, Edelstein started to speak. "I trust you've all done your reading," he began. "It's not ground we're going to cover today, but it's obviously important material. I'd like you guys to keep moving. The Quran can be slow going, and the more of it we get through this semester, the better." He paused and arranged the papers gathered before him. Rachel offered me the rest of her oatmeal cookie with a whisper: "Wanna finish?"
"Absolutely," I said, taking it.
"Today, I'd like to share some of the recent work a couple of my colleagues in Germany are doing. I wasn't able to offer you any readings on their work, because it's very much happening right now. It's at the very forefront of Islamic scholarship…" Edelstein paused again, now making eye contact with the Muslim-born students in the class—there were three of us—and added cautiously, "And what I have to share may come as a shock to some of you."
So began his lecture on the Sanaa manuscripts.
In 1972, while restoring an ancient mosque in Sanaa, Yemen, a group of workers busy overhauling the original roof found a stash of parchments and damaged books buried in the rafters. It was a grave of sorts, the kind that Muslims—forbidden from burning the Quran—use to respectfully discard damaged or worn-out copies of the holy book. The workers packed the manuscripts into potato sacks, and they were locked away until one of Edelstein's close friends—a colleague—was approached some seven years later to take a look at the documents. What he discovered was unprecedented: The parchment pages dated back to Islam's first two centuries, fragments of the oldest Qurans in existence. What was shocking, Edelstein told us, was that there were aberrations and deviations from the standard Quran that Muslims had been using for more than a thousand years. In short, Edelstein claimed, his German colleague was about to show the world that the bedrock Muslim belief in the Quran as the direct, unchanged, eternal word of God was a fiction. Muslims weren't going to be spared the fate of Christians and Jews over the past three centuries of scholarship: the Quran, like the Bible, would prove to be the historical document common sense dictated it had to be.
Up in the front row, one of the students—Ahmad, a Muslim—interrupted Edelstein's lecture, raising his hand angrily.
Edelstein paused. "Yes, Ahmad?"
"Why has your friend not published his findings yet?" Ahmad barked.
Edelstein held Ahmad's gaze for a moment before replying. And when he did, his tone was conciliatory. "My colleague is concerned about continued access to the texts if they were to make these findings known to the Yemeni authorities. They're preparing a series of articles, but are ensuring that they've had enough time to go through all fourteen thousand pages carefully, just in case they never get to see the documents again."
Now Ahmad's voice bellowed, red and bitter: "And why exactly would they be barred from seeing them again?"
There was silence. The classroom was thick with tension.
"There's no need to get upset, Ahmad. We can talk about this like scholars…"
"Scholars! What scholars make claims without documented findings? Huh?!"
"I understand this is some controversial stuff…but there's no need—"
Ahmad cut him off. "It's not controversial, Pro-fess-or," he said, spitting the middle syllable back at Edelstein with disgust. "It's incendiary." Ahmad bolted up from his desk, books in hand. "In-sult-ing and in-cen-diary!" he shouted. After a look at Sahar—the usually reticent Malaysian girl sitting to his left, her head lowered as she scratched nervously on her pad—and then another look, back at me, Ahmad stormed out of the room.
"Anyone else want to leave?" Edelstein asked, clearly affected. After a short pause, Sahar quietly gathered her things, got up, and walked out.
"That leaves you, Hayat."
"Nothing to worry about, Professor. I'm a true and tried Mutazalite."
Edelstein's face brightened with a smile. "Bless your heart."
After class, I stood and stretched, surprised again at how nimble and awake I felt.
"Where you headed?" Rachel asked.
"To the Union."
"Wanna walk? I'm going to the library."
"Sure," I said.
Outside, as we strolled beneath the shedding ash trees that lined the path to the library, Rachel remarked how surprised she was at Ahmad and Sahar walking out.
"Don't be," I said. "Saying less than that could get you killed in some circles." She looked skeptical. "Look at Rushdie," I said. The fatwa was only a year old, an event still fresh in everyone's mind.
Rachel shook her head. "I don't understand these things…So what did you mean by what you said to Edelstein?"
"About being a Mutazalite?"
"A school of Muslims that don't believe in the Quran as the eternal word of God. But I was joking. I'm not a Mutazalite. They died off a thousand years ago."
She nodded. We walked a few paces. "How did you feel about the lecture?" she asked.
"What's to feel? The truth is the truth. Better to know it than not to."
"Absolutely," she said, studying me, "but it doesn't mean you can't have feelings about it, right?" Her question was softly put. There was tenderness in it.
"Honestly? It makes me feel free."
She nodded. And we walked awhile in silence.
"Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?" I finally asked.
"What you want to know."
"Did you really have to study last night, or were you just saying that?"
Rachel laughed, her lips parting to reveal her small square teeth. She really was lovely. "I have an organic chemistry exam tomorrow, I told you that. That's why I'm going to the library now." She stopped and put her hand on my arm. "But I promise I'll go with you to the next game…Okay?"
My heart surged with sudden joy. "Okay," I said with a cough.
When we got to the library's steps, I had the urge to tell her what had happened to me the night before. "Can I ask you another personal question?"
"Do you believe in God?"
For a moment, Rachel looked startled. And then she shrugged. "No. At least not the guy-in-the-sky type thing."
"Since ever, I guess. My mom was an atheist, so I don't think I ever took it that seriously. I mean, my dad made us go to temple sometimes—Rosh Hashanah and stuff—but even then, my mom would spend the whole way there and back complaining."
"So you don't know what it's like to lose your faith."
I nodded. "It's freeing. So freeing. It's the most freeing thing that's ever happened to me… You asked me how I feel about the lecture? Hearing Edelstein talk about the Quran as just a book, a book like any other, makes me feel like going out to celebrate."
"Sounds like fun," she said, smiling. "If you wait 'til tomorrow, we can celebrate together…"
"Sounds like a plan."
Rachel lingered on the step above me just long enough for the thought to occur. And when it did, I didn't question it. I leaned in and touched my lips to hers.
Her mouth pressed against mine. I felt her hand against the back of my head, the tip of her tongue gently grazing the tip of my own.
All at once, she pulled away. She turned and hopped up the steps, then stopped at the door and shot me a quick look. "Wish me luck on my exam," she said.
"Good luck," I said.
When she was gone, I lingered, in a daze, barely able to believe my good fortune.
That night, after a day of classes and an evening of Ping-Pong at the Union, I was sitting in bed, trying to study, but thinking only of Rachel…when the phone rang. It was Mother.
"She's gone, behta."
I was quiet. I knew, of course, who she was talking about. A month earlier she and I had gone to Kansas City to visit Mina—not only my mother's lifelong best friend, but the person who'd had, perhaps, the greatest influence on my life—as she lay in a hospital bed, her insides ravaged with cancer.
"Did you hear me, Hayat?" Mother said.
"It's probably better, isn't it, Mom? I mean, she's not in pain anymore."
"But she's gone, Hayat," Mother moaned. "She's gone…"
I listened quietly as she cried. And then I consoled her.
Mother didn't ask me that night how I felt about Mina's passing, which was just as well. I probably wouldn't have told her what I was really feeling. Even the confession I had made to Mina while she lay on what turned out to be her deathbed, even that hadn't been enough to assuage the guilt I'd been carrying since I was twelve. If I was reluctant to share how aggrieved I was with my mother, it was because my grief was not only for Mina, but for myself as well.
Now that she was gone, how could I ever repair the harm I'd done?
The following evening, Rachel and I sat side by side at a pizzeria counter, our dinner before a movie. I didn't tell her about Mina, but somehow, she sensed something was wrong. She asked me if I was all right. I told her I was. She insisted. "You sure, Hayat?" she asked. She was looking at me with a tenderness I couldn't fathom. "Thought you wanted to celebrate," she said with a smile.
"Well…after I left you yesterday, I got some bad news."
"My aunt died. She was like…a second mother to me."
"Oh God. I'm so sorry."
All at once, my throat was searing. I was on the verge of tears.
"Sorry," I said, looking away.
Feeling her hand on my arm, I heard her voice: "You don't have to talk about it…"
I looked back and nodded.
The movie was a comedy. It distracted me. Toward the end, Rachel pushed herself up against my side, and we held hands for a while. Afterwards, she invited me back to her room, where she lit candles and played me a song on the guitar that she'd written. It was something longing and plaintive about lost love. Only three days ago, I couldn't have imagined myself being so lucky. And yet I couldn't push away thoughts of Mina.
When Rachel finished her song, I told her it was wonderful.
She could tell my mind was elsewhere.
"Still thinking about your aunt, aren't you?"
"Is it that obvious?"
She shrugged and smiled. "It's okay," she said, setting her guitar aside. "My grandma was really important to me like that. I went through a lot when she died."
"But the thing is, it's not just that she died…it's that I had something to do with it." I didn't even realize I'd said it until I was almost finished with the sentence.
Rachel looked at me, puzzled, folds appearing along her forehead.
"What happened?" she asked.
"You don't know me very well…I mean, of course you don't. It's just…I don't think you realize how I grew up."
"I'm not following you, Hayat."
"You're Jewish, right?"
"You may not like me very much if I tell you what happened…"
She shifted in her place, her back straightening. She looked away.
You barely know her, I thought. What are you trying to prove?
"Maybe I should leave," I said.
She didn't reply.
I didn't move. The fact was, I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay. I wanted to tell her.
We sat in silence for a long moment, and then Rachel reached out to touch my hand.
"Tell me," she said.
Long before I knew Mina, I knew her story.
It was a tale Mother told so many times: How her best friend, gifted and gorgeous—something of a genius, as Mother saw it—had been frustrated at every turn, her development derailed by the small-mindedness of her family, her robust will checked by a culture that made no place for a woman. I heard about the grades Mina skipped and the classes she topped, though always somewhat to the chagrin of parents more concerned with her eventual nuptials than her report card. I heard about all the boys who loved her, and how—when she was twelve—she, too, fell in love, only to have her nose broken by her father's fist when he found a note from her sweetheart tucked into her math book. I heard about her nervous breakdowns and her troubles with food and, of course, about the trove of poems her mother set alight in the living room fireplace one night during an argument about whether or not Mina would be allowed to go to college to become a writer.
Perhaps it was that I heard it all so often without knowing the woman myself, but for the longest time, Mina Ali and her gifts and travails were like the persistent smell of curry in our halls and our rooms: an ever-presence in my life of which I made little note.
And then, one summer afternoon when I was eight, I saw a picture of her. As Mother unfolded Mina's latest letter from Pakistan, a palm-sized color glossy tumbled out. "That's your auntie Mina, kurban," Mother said as I picked it up. "Look how beautiful she is."
The picture showed a striking woman sitting on a wicker chair before a background of green leaves and orange flowers. Most of her perfectly black hair was covered with a pale pink scarf, and both her hair and scarf framed an utterly arresting face: cheekbones highly drawn—gently accentuated with a touch of blush—oval eyes, and a small, pointed nose perched above a pair of ample lips. Her features defined a perfect harmony, promising something sheltering, something tender, but not only. For there was an intensity in her eyes that belied this intimation of maternal comfort, or at least complicated it: those eyes were black and filled with piercing light, as if her vision had long been sharpened against the grindstone of some nameless inner pain. And though she was smiling, her smile was more one concealed than offered and, like her eyes, hinted at something mysterious and elusive, something you wanted to know.
Mother posted the photo on our refrigerator door, pinned in place by the same rainbow-shaped finger magnets that also affixed my school lunch menu. (This was the menu Mother consulted each night before school to see if pork was being served the following day—and if, therefore, I'd be needing a bag lunch—and which I consulted each school morning hoping to find my favorite, beef lasagna, listed among the day's offerings.) For two years, then, barely a day went by without at least a casual glance at that photograph of Mina. And there were more than a few occasions when, finishing my glass of morning milk, or munching on string cheese after school, I lingered over it, staring at her likeness as I sometimes did at the surface of the pond at Worth Park on summer afternoons: doing my best to catch a glimpse of what was hidden in the depths.
It was a remarkable photograph, and—as I was to discover from Mina herself a couple of years later—it had an equally remarkable history. Mina's parents, counting on their daughter's beauty to attract a lucrative match, brought in a fashion photographer to take pictures of her, and the photo in question was the one that would make its way—through a matchmaker—into the hands of Hamed Suhail, the only son of a wealthy Karachi family.
Hamed fell in love with Mina the moment he saw it.
The Suhails showed up at the Ali home a week and a half later, and by the end of their meeting, the fathers had shaken hands on their children's betrothal. Mother always claimed that Mina didn't dislike Hamed, and that Mina always said she could have found happiness with him. If not for Irshad, Hamed's mother.
After the wedding, Mina moved south to Karachi to live with her in-laws, and the problems between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law began the first night Mina was there. Irshad came into her bedroom holding a string of plump, pomegranate-colored stones, a garnet necklace and family heirloom which—Irshad explained—had been handed down from mother to daughter for five generations. Herself daughterless, Irshad had always imagined she would bestow these, the only family jewels, on the wife of her only son someday.
"Try it on," Irshad urged, warmly.
Mina did. And as they both stared into the mirror, Mina couldn't help but notice the silvery thinning of Irshad's eyes. She recognized the envy.
"You shouldn't, Ammi," Mina said, pulling the stones from her neck.
"I shouldn't what?"
"I don't know…I mean, it's so beautiful…are you sure you want to give it to me?"
"I'm not giving it to you yet," Irshad replied, abruptly. "I just wanted to see how it looked."
Bruised by Irshad's sudden shift, Mina handed the necklace back to her mother-in-law. Irshad took it and, without another word, walked out of the room.
So Irshad's enmity began. First came the snide comments offered under her breath, or in passing: about how headstrong the "new girl" was; how she ate hunched over her plate like a servant; or how, as Irshad put it, Mina looked like a "mouse." Soon to follow were changes to the household routine intended to make Mina's life more difficult: servants sent up to clean Mina's room when she was still asleep; the expunging from the family menu of the foods Mina most enjoyed; the continued flurry of mean-spirited remarks, though now no longer offered sotto
- "Whether you believe religion is a precious gift from God or the greatest scourge of mankind, you will find yourself represented in these pages. With brilliant storytelling and exquisitely balanced points of view, Ayad Akhtar creates characters who experience the rapture of religion but also have their lives ripped apart by it."—Manil Suri, author of The Death of Vishnu and The Age of Shiva
- "Akhtar's graceful and moving novel is a story most immigrants can relate to, regardless of background, but resonates particularly with first generation Muslim-Americans who, in this interconnected world, struggle daily with both a clash of cultures and (today) a deep suspicion of, if not prejudice against the faith of their forefathers. But apart from that, it is a wonderful story of coming to terms with who one is, and who society expects one to be-and absolutely everyone can relate to that."—Hooman Majd, author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ and The Ayatollahs' Democracy
- "A compelling debut with a family drama centered on questions of religious and ethnic identity.... Akhtar, himself a first-generation Pakistani-American from Milwaukee, perfectly balances a moving exploration of the understanding and serenity Islam imparts to an unhappy preteen with an unsparing portrait of fundamentalist bigotry and cruelty.... His well-written, strongly plotted narrative is essentially a conventional tale of family conflict and adolescent angst, strikingly individualized by its Muslim fabric. Hayat's father is in many ways the most complex and intriguing character, but Mina and Nathan achieve a tragic nobility that goes beyond their plot function as instruments of the boy's moral awakening.... [The story's] warm tone and traditional but heartfelt coming-of-age lesson will appeal to a broad readership. Engaging and accessible, thoughtful without being daunting: This may be the novel that brings Muslim-American fiction into the commercial mainstream."—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
- "Loss of innocence-sexual, of course, but also cultural and religious-is the subject of Ayad Akhtar's poignant American Dervish, set in a Muslim-American community in the early 1980s.... With characters full of contradictions and complexity, this debut novel is refreshing for its lack of the political and religious hand-wringing so common in the post-9/11 world. But it's also resonantly familiar in its depiction of youthful obsession and the desire to belong."—Sarah Nelson, O, the Oprah Magazine
- "American Dervish is an intelligent, courageously honest book about religion that never bogs down in dogma, proscriptions, or easy answers. The characters are memorable and alive, most of all the narrator's fierce, tough-minded mother and gorgeous, tragically principled 'auntie,' who in different ways help the young narrator on his difficult path of doubt, faith, and, hopefully, happiness. The story is as stirring and thought-provoking as it is compulsively page-turning."—Kate Christensen, author of The Astral and The Great Man
- "[A] heartfelt first novel.... Akhtar himself is the son of Pakistani immigrants who settled in Wisconsin, and his knowing take on the complexities of that particular experience feels fresh.... The book's central tension between secularism and religiosity obviously has broader significance, and Akhtar explores these issues with admirable nuance.... Akhtar's characters drive a story that's compelling and believable even at its most alien. American Dervish offers a rich look at a nearby world that many Americans don't know nearly enough about."—Rob Brunner, Entertainment Weekly
- "What a pleasure to encounter a first novel as self-assured and effortlessly told as Ayad Akhtar's American Dervish. Mr. Akhtar, a first-generation Pakistani-American, has written an immensely entertaining coming-of-age story set during the early 1980s among the Pakistanis in the author's hometown, Milwaukee.... Mr. Akhtar's astute observations of the clashes between old world and new, between secular and sacred, among immigrants might seem familiar to readers of both contemporary and classic literature.... But what distinguishes Mr. Akhtar's novel is its generosity and its willingness to embrace the contradictions of its memorably idiosyncratic characters and the society they inhabit.... Mr. Akhtar is particularly adept at depicting the tensions between Jews and Muslims in pre-Sept. 11 America.... Yet for all the rage and satire contained within its pages, Mr. Akhtar's novel is far from an antireligious screed in the tradition of Christopher Hitchens. It is instead admirably restrained, deeply appreciative of some aspects of Islam and ultimately far more interested in raising provocative questions than in definitively answering them.... [A] charming debut."—am Langer, The New York Times
- "Akhtar dazzles with his debut novel about a Muslim family in pre-9/11 America.... Ambitious but accessible, playwright Akhtar's engaging first novel tells a particularly fresh and touching coming-of-age story that illuminates the everyday lives of Muslims in America and brings new resonance to universal questions of belief and belonging."—Helen Rogan, People, 3 ½ stars
- "[An] astutely observed novel.... Akhtar, a promising young playwright publishing his debut novel, embraces the contradictions - spiritual, sexual, cultural - of growing up Muslim in America in American Dervish. Hayat's story of betrayal comprises the meat of the novel, which will leave a hole in the heart of the biggest sinner. Whether you are Muslim, Jewish or Christian, this coming-of-age tale hits home.... Intelligently written, emotionally charged, American Dervish is a loss-of-innocence tale that will leave readers pondering the state of their own faith.... it's likely that Akhtar's novel will be on many 2012 best-books lists, including that of the Express-News."—Steve Bennett, San Antonio Express News
- Ayad Akhtar's wonderful first novel tells a quintessentially American coming-of-age story: The child of immigrants struggles to find a place in his life for the traditions and beliefs of his ancestral homeland in a new world of broader possibilities that are both enticing and threatening. Although the main narrative unfolds in the early 1980s, it speaks to issues that collectively preoccupy us even more today... American Dervish so richly depicts a wide variety of humanly inconsistent and fallible characters that it feels reductive to call it a Muslim American novel, yet it is impossible to call it anything else because it is steeped in the tenets of Islam and a fierce debate over their deepest meaning....Akhtar's complicated, conflicted characters are not helpless victims; they make irrevocable mistakes and do dreadful things, but Akhtar encourages us to understand and forgive...The vivid particulars of [Hayat's] spiritual quest and emotional confusion embody universal experiences: growing up, learning to accept the faults of those you love (and your own), achieving an identity nourished by your roots but shaped by your individual needs and aspirations. Akhtar's poignant and wise debut announces the arrival of a generous new voice in American fiction."—Wendy Smith, The Washington Post
- "American Dervish is set to become The Help of 2012."—Beth Kephart, The Chicago Tribune
- "In this remarkably self-assured, infectiously readable debut novel, Ayad Akhtar beams readers directly inside Hayat's young mind. His growing love for Mina - as his revered 'auntie,' focus of his budding sexual interest, and teacher of Islam through nightly Koran readings - feels sweet yet fraught. After listening to her read these lyrical holy verses, Hayat floats back to his room 'my heart softened and sweet, my senses heightened.' Of course it's headed toward disaster, but Akhtar lets the ensuring calamities unfold without melodrama. Along the way, Hayat learns that his beloved adults' worst flaws sometimes coincide with what is most lovable and laudable about them, and that faith, mystery, and love have less to do with any religious text than with the human heart."—Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
- "Akhtar is a well-experienced, wonderful writer who approaches a difficult subject confidently and without any pretense.... American Dervish is one of those rare (and, at times, uncomfortable) books that deserves a literary award."—Melissa Smith, Book Reporter
- "American Dervish is a strong candidate for the title of the Great Muslim American Novel."—Mark Athitaki, AARP.com
- "[D]isturbing, complex and....fascinating... American Dervish is nuanced and full of surprises, conveying the dilemmas many people - not just Muslims - face when they immigrate to the United States."—Repps Hudson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
- On Sale
- Jan 9, 2012
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Little, Brown and Company