This is the first entry in our new weekly series, The Book Were Talking About. At the start of each week, well tell you about a recent release that is getting a lot of attention – and help you understand why thats happening. Were also sending it out as a weekly email at the beginning of every week – subscribe via the alerts box in the top right of our sections homepage.
American Dervish by Ayah Akhtar
Little, Brown, $24.99
Published on January 9th, 2012
What is it about?
Hayat is a Muslim boy growing up in 1980s America, engrossed in American pastimes such as video games and Looney Toons. But when his mothers patient and alluring best friend, Mina, moves in after fleeing Pakistan, he begins to take an interest in Muslim tradition.
As he memorizes verses from the Quran on devotion, ritual and chastity, he finds himself growing infatuated with Mina, in part because of his fathers gruffness and his mothers sharp tongue. When Mina begins dating a Jewish radiologist, Hayats opinions on love and religion are further complicated.
Why are we talking about it?
The cover is getting a lot of front-of-bookstore attention — the image of a boy gazing sheepishly over his shoulder while biking through suburbia elicits feelings of nostalgia. It also helps that the blurb is proving enticing: Passion, spirituality and betrayal.
On the main character
Hayat is more observant than the average nine-year-old. He can tell when Mina and her new boyfriend are acting rather than speaking genuinely, and hes a chess wizard, growing impatient when playing with less-skilled players. His insights coupled with his innocence make for an unusual style of narration.
Who wrote it?
Ayad Akhtar. This is his first novel, but he has a background in theatre, and has written about Muslim-American lawyers and Islamic militant groups for Broadway World and The American Theatre Company in Chicago. You can see this in his writing: he crafts direct, engaging dialogue.