Fabulous Fiction Firsts #309

Actor/playwright/filmmaker Ayad Akhtar is now a first-time novelist with the publication of American Dervish * last week. With rights sold to 19 countries, this might just be the first Muslim-American novel to reach commercial mainstream.

"(B)rilliantly written, nuanced, and emotionally forceful look inside the interplay of religion and modern life", the novel opens with Hayat Shah, heavy with guilt, remembering his first love, Auntie Mina - independent, beautiful and intelligent, and his mother's oldest friend from Pakistan. Her arrival enlivens their previously dour and secular household with laughter and she brings an abiding Muslim faith which she begins to share with Hayat, awakening in the 10 yr.old boy a fierce infatuation, and a new religious identity.

When Mina falls for his father's Jewish colleague Nathan, Hayat feels betrayed. A reckless scheme to set things right brings on devastating consequences for all those he loves most.

"The young teen's personal story about growing up in pre-9/11 Muslim America is both particular and universal, with intense connections of faith, sorrow, tenderness, anger, betrayal, questioning, and love."

A readalike for Leila Aboulela's The Translator (2006) and Hisham Matar's Anatomy of a Disappearance (in audio), (2011).

Ayad Akhtar is an American-born, first generation Pakistani-American from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An award-winning playwright (Brown, Columbia) he starred and co-wrote The War Within (2005), which was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay and an International Press Academy Satellite Award for Best Picture - Drama.

* = starred review