Homeland Elegies

Little, Brown. Sept. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9780316496421. $28. F
This achingly intimate novel-cum-memoir from Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Akhtar (Disgraced) searingly explores the existential questions consuming immigrants in the United States, a task he began with his debut novel, American Dervish. They’re asked where their loyalties lie and told “Go back where you came from,” even if, like our narrator, they are born here. Raised in a Milwaukee suburb by Pakistani parents, both physicians, he reflects upon his father’s unadulterated pride in his Americanism and his mother’s more muted adjustment to her adopted country. He credits a college professor with opening his eyes to the myth of American exceptionalism and his decision to immerse himself in a writing career. But while he was living in Harlem, 9/11 happened; brown-skinned men became suspect and Islam no longer a culture or a religion but an epithet. Still, the narrator’s career takes off. He’s wooed by a billionaire philanthropist, a Pakistani American who supports the right charities in a bid for acceptance, and mourns his mother’s death and the end of a love affair. But the beating heart of this novel is his complex relationship with his father and with his homeland.
VERDICT The personal is political in this beautiful, intense elegy for an America that often goes awry while still offering hope. [See Prepub Alert, 2/24/20.]
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