American dervish : a novel

by Ayad Akhtar

Paper Book, 2012




New York : Little, Brown and Co., 2012.


A young Pakistani boy, whose parents left the fundamentalists behind when they came to America, finds transformation and a path to happiness through a family friend, Mina, who shows him the beauty and power of the Quran.

User reviews

LibraryThing member johnluiz
American Dervish is a terrific coming of age story. What makes it particularly stand out is that the protagonist, Hayat Shah, a 12-year-old Muslim boy isn’t simply the victim of selfish parents or bullying schoolmates. He has a petty and vindictive side, too, and the novel focuses on the lifelong guilt he feels over one particularly cruel act that he’s convinced changed the course of his “auntie’s" life. The auntie, Mina, comes to America to live with Hayat’s family after her arranged marriage in Pakistan fell apart because of her meddlesome and overbearing mother-in-law. But when her husband divorced her, he threatened to take custody of their son when the boy turned seven. To help her escape that fate, Hayat’s mother, who was a childhood friend of Mina’s, lets her and her son come live with them at their home in Milwaukee. Through Mina, a brilliant and religious woman, Hayat learns about Islam and the Quran for the first time. Hayat’s father, Naveed, lost his faith after his sister died when the two were teenagers and he has nothing but contempt for the religious Pakistanis in their town, whom he sees as ignorant, backward, and hypocritical. Mina uses the Quran to teach Hayat how to appreciate every aspect of life and to live with ultimate humility before God’s graces. She makes him want to become a “hafiz,” someone who memorizes many verses of the Quran. Hayat believes that if he does, both he and his parents will get into heaven – a possibility that fills him with great hope because he worries that otherwise his father’s philandering and drinking will make him burn in hell. The beautiful Mina is more than a religious inspiration to the naïve Hayat. At 12, he still does not know what sex is, isn’t even sure if women have different parts than men, and when he starts having wet dreams, he doesn’t know what’s happening to him. Without understanding anything about sex, Mina is his first crush – a situation that becomes all the more complicated when he catches Mina in the middle of the night naked in the bathroom and on the verge of touching herself. As aroused as that image of her makes him, he doesn’t use it for his own masturbatory fantasy, but instead tries to become more devout. But when Mina meets and falls in love with his father’s partner, Nathan, Hayat does all he can to destroy that relationship, out of jealousy and because Nathan is Jewish. When Mina herself realizes the relationship with Nathan won’t work because of their religious differences, her family’s objections, and her son’s desire for a father who isn’t white, she settles for a marriage to a weak and mentally unstable but domineering Muslim man, and Hayat has to deal with years of guilt for sabotaging her one chance at happiness. Hayat’s mother is a particularly strong character. She suffers the constant humiliation of her husband’s affairs and opens up to her son about far more than she should, but when Mina lashes out at Hayat for trying to poison her son’s mind about the prospects of a Jewish stepfather, Hayat’s mother comes to her son defense and lets her best friend know she’ll kill her even she ever touches her son again. Overall, this is a courageous book and one that offers a not very flattering look at the anti-semitism and misogyny of a small group of Muslims who use the Quran to justify their hatred of the Jews and, in some cases, men’s right to beat their women. But this community of Muslims is no different, I suppose, than the Christian right when they use the Bible to justify homophobia. Here, Mina, provides the thoughtful counterbalance, by showing the goodness and humility the Quran can inspire when interpretations of it aren’t use to justify mean-spiritedness and cruelty. There is a lot of wonderful moral complexity to consider here. Is Hayat responsible for Mina’s fate or is Mina the one who set the ball in motion by filling his head with verses from the Quran and leading him to a mosque that would never accept Jews? Did Hayat’s one sabotaging truly alter the course of Mina’s life or did she make free choices along the way? It’s a lot to ponder, and the author deserves considerable accolades for embedding these issues inside a highly entertaining and moving story with so many great, fully-rounded characters.… (more)
LibraryThing member Carolee888
American Dervish by Ayad Akbar begins in 1990 with Hayat Shah reflecting on his “aunt’s “ death. She was his mother’s best friend so as her mother put it, Mina was her sister of the soul instead of the blood and closer.

The story then goes back to when Mina comes to live with them. Mina’s marriage ended in divorce and she had one son, Imran who according to custom would live with Mina and then after reaching the age of seven would be under the father’s full custody. Mina was afraid of losing her son so she left Pakistan to live with Hayat’s mother’s family in the Midwest. Hayat’s parents’ marriage was in terrible shape and Mina would help his mother to be able to cope. His parents argued frequently and his father drank and frequented prostitutes.

When Mina arrives with her son, Hayat has a huge crush on her. She is also gorgeous and mysterious. He wants her for himself. He starts to take lessons from her about the Quran, memorizing parts of it. He is proud of it and cannot understand his father’s view of his studies. Mina is very intelligent but she can never please her own parents, all they are interested in is getting her married again to someone of their own choice. Desperate to not have Mina leave his family he takes actions that he will later regret and feel guilty about. He is going through puberty without any guidance from his parents, his love for Mina consumes him.

I stayed up late last night to finish this. This book covers religious prejudice, hatred, cultural differences and love. I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member autumnblues
An eye opening look into the Quran mindset of American Muslim families.

This is a truly fascinating fictional account of the life of a Pakistani family living in America portrayed through the eyes of a young boy Hayat Shah. Hayat's family seems split in two as his mother's interest to be part of the local Muslim community are not the same interests of her husband. Hayat struggles as a go-between to his parents as his mother clings to hope that her husband will change his womanizing ways while making it clear to her son what her father is doing to her. Feeling lonely, Hayat's mother constantly turns to her son for support, many times sharing her disgust and anguish with her son. Hayat's father is a analytical strong-willed physician who has decided being a Muslim is something he wants no part of and in doing so becomes an outcast amongst the Muslim men in his community.

Not long into the book, Hayat's mothers best friend Mina, shows up with her young son to live with his family in America. After her marriage, Mina had been physically and mentally abused by her mother-in-law and her husband in her native land. She was then outcast and divorced by her husband due to being too outspoken. After just giving birth the divorce papers arrive at her hospital bedside. What she reads shocks her. Her divorce decree declares that when her son turns 7 he will be taken from her and her husband would be given full custody. How convenient this law is to the men of this country, yet this is mild compared to what can happen to these women. This is how the rulers of these countries in the Middle East twist their laws with Islam to mentally abuse not only the women but also their own children. Hayat's mother turns to her friend for help with the only solution she knows of, which is to get her out of Pakistan and bring her to the United States for good.

Although written as fiction, one can see and feel this story is based totally on truth. This novel moves the reader to learn more about these families that come to America pursuing a better life and fleeing Sharia laws. The author Akhtar expresses to the reader the lives and mindsets of those that come to the East yet continue to follow and believe in the Quran.

Although I certainly feel each reader needs to form his own opinion about what is written in this book. It is quite disturbing how the Muslim religion brainwashes people to believe these ridiculous ideologies. We all know that every culture has their own traditions, customs and religions. However, when those beliefs are sowed from hate, bigotry and evil I feel it is best to ask the one and true God for help to move on and away from this mindset. One example in this story is the torture and abuse that Mina suffers in order to remain attached to these Muslim beliefs. This is true and real life for many women in the Muslim society and worse for those who live amongst Sharia law. These women are brought up to believe they are worthless and are owned by their parents, later to be sold in marriage as if they were a piece of property. The men are then taught by the religion and their parents that they have a right to control and abuse these women. Why once in the United States, these Muslims who move here for a better life, away from their country and Sharia law, continue to read and follow the evil in the Quran is quite confusing. I can tell you right now, don't let anyone that has a belief in that book, they call holy, let you believe it otherwise, that book is not holy. I have studied and learned that the Quran was given to Mohammad by the devil himself. Imagine Charles Manson having visions and then writing a book, who all then believe to be true. This is the only comparison I need to make when it comes to speaking of the Quran. Yet the Muslim community continues to follow it as if it was the true word of God. That book that is filled with hate for those who live in the holy land of Israel and the Jewish community, plus other atrocities. God hates no one yet they are consumed with the belief, that God hates Jews. It is true that the Israelites where punished for what they did as it is written in the Bible. However, they were not doing anything much different than people are doing now in our modern society, including those that follow Islam. This is why God sent Jesus. So everyone who has ever set foot on earth can be forgiven for their sins. Sins that man perform because of free will and the influence of the devil and his demons who roam the earth. I thank the author from my heart for speaking out for these women who have no voice. My hope is that many more turn away from the true evil with Gods help and continue to show their mercy by speaking out with books like these.
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LibraryThing member kiwifortyniner
A look at the lives of Muslims in America told from the point of view of a 12 year old boy. A coming of age story I did not like it very much. Did not find the plot very interesting.
LibraryThing member spotteddog
A very interesting and enjoyable "coming of age" story told from the perspective of a 12 year old American Muslim boy. A little heavy on passages from the Koran, but still a good read.
LibraryThing member shazjhb
Coming of age book. It had its moments. Many issues were somewhat disturbing.
LibraryThing member sparemethecensor
I picked this up from the library on a whim, and I'm grateful I did -- I absolutely loved it. Well-written and engaging, funny in parts, tragic in parts, and emotionally affecting throughout.

This is the coming-of-age tale of Hayat, a boy of Pakistani descent growing up in the Midwest. His parents are not particularly devout Muslims, but their faith plays a huge role in his development. I liked Hayat's voice in the story, and I was on the edge of my seat to see what would happen next for him, his parents, and his "auntie" Mina.

Every sentence of this story rang true to me, both Hayat as a child and as a young adult. I loved the uncomfortable clash of Pakistani and American cultures in his household and in his own mind. Other reviews have mentioned that this isn't for the faint of heart, since there are plenty of dark, unpleasant scenes, some violence, and the use of racial epithets. But it is utterly real. Ayad Akhtar has done a phenomenal job of showing us the world of the Pakistani-American boy looking to find his place between two cultures. I loved this book.
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LibraryThing member BooksCooksLooks
This was an excellent book. As a coming of age tale of a young Muslim boy (Hayat) it tells the story of a first crush and that boy's learning about love. His parents' marriage is shaky at best and his mother talks to him about the most inappropriate things; he is only 12 and yet she shares with him of her husband's affairs. The household is refreshed when Mina enters - Mina is Hayat's mothers dearest friend from Pakistan. She is escaping an abusive father and an embarrassing divorce. She brings a breath of fresh air into Hayat's life and he promptly falls in love with all of his 12 year old heart.

If one reads deeper though, this is a tale of the harm that untutored religious zeal and child neglect can cause a family. Not child neglect in failing to feed and clothe but child neglect in failing to nurture, teach and keep from children that which they are too young to know. Add in some harsh religious stricture with no balance and a young brain can come to some very dangerous conclusions.

It was a book I found hard to put down and I read it over the course of two days. The writing is compelling, the characters fascinating and the story universal. Love and regret are found no matter the race or religion. Not to mention the sacrifices a woman will make for the sake of a child. A truly fascinating look into a lifestyle so very different in some ways and yet so very similar in others to our own.
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LibraryThing member purplehena
I actually really enjoyed this book. Part of me is a little worried that someone who is either anti-Islam or super-pro-Islam (to the point of not accepting flaws within the Muslim community) will not notice the nuances in this novel's views on religion. For me, however, it was perfect.
LibraryThing member sharlene_w
I appreciate a well written book that gives insight into other cultures or religions. I listened to the audio version of this book read by the author. I never wanted it to end. Exceptionally well written and read.
LibraryThing member markon
I was initially intrigued by the jacket photo of a boy riding a bicycle looking back over his shoulder. On its face, American Dervish is simply another coming of age novel. And the photo? A bicycle doesn’t play a role in the story. But looking back over his shoulder, Hyatt tells the story of his early adolescence, the (unacknowledged) crush he has on his mother’s best friend Mina, the complicated role religion plays in his life, and the foolish action his crush leads him to take, with results that don’t work out the way he hoped.

The setting, the immigrant Pakistani community in Wisconsin, is autobiographical. I’m curious to see how this writer with theater and film training develops. A good first effort - 3.2 stars.
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LibraryThing member peggygillman
A tragedy wherein a young 12 year old, jealous of the Jew who is going to marry his Islamic aunt, writes to her family and the whole world collapses. She marries an abuser and dies a decade later. Well written and compelling. 8/25
LibraryThing member addbj
A thought-provoking commentary on both Islam in America specifically, and religion in modern society generally. When the best friend of Hayat's mother comes to America with her son to escape Pakistan from a divorce gone ugly, her fresh and dynamic view of life infects the entire family and galvanises young Hayt's interest in Islam itself. The beautiful free-spirited Mina's influence on Hayat is one he will never forget. But not all is as it seems; and when Mina falls in love with a good-hearted Jewish doctor a chain of events is set off which will influence Hayat's worldview for ever.

Not knowing a great deal about the day-to-day life of a modern Muslim family I was fascinated to read about the common rituals along with the beliefs which inspire them. Even more interesting, however, was the way in which different layers of belief were brought to life in the very well-drawn and believable characters.
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LibraryThing member LDVoorberg
This book is more a window into Islam and Muslims and marital relations within that religion than about a young boy who becomes disillusioned by Islam, though this latter concept is the framework for the rest of the story. Hayat is the narrator who tells us "his" story, but it's more his auntie's story than his own. There are lots of tangents into Islamic traditions/teachings and culture, and the reader is left to make conclusions for his/herself, rather than have the writer comment directly. There's not a lot of emotional connections, except that you feel for the mother and auntie and their awkward life in between their religion and American freedom. I think one of the most interesting characters is the father, who recognizes the hypocrisy in his peers but also struggles with the traps of American "sins" of alcohol and sex. He's the most dynamic character but not given enough 'screen time' and dismissed as a good-for-nothing.
Potential here, but the book does not deliver its hype.
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LibraryThing member nbmars
Hayat Shah is just a fifth grader when he first meets his Aunt Mina, who has come with her son Imran from Pakistan to live with Hayat’s family in Milwaukee. Hayat develops a crush on Mina and does whatever he can to earn her love and attention, including studying the Quran. His parents don’t approve of his religious immersion, but the more diligent he is, the more Mina seems to respond positively to him. In fact, the whole family seems happier with Mina around, and Hayat’s father sets her up with his colleague and best friend, Nathan Wolfson, who is Jewish.

Nathan is ready to convert for Mina until he is exposed to the anti-Semitism of the mosque. Furthermore, Hayat, acting out of jealousy, takes some irrevocable steps to sabotage the relationship. The result is worse than he anticipated, and nothing short of catastrophic.

Discussion: The whole of the book seems to be a confession by Hayat about how he hurt his beloved Aunt Mina with his use of the Quran to wreak havoc on her romance with Nathan. But by the end of the book, I did not get any sense that he understood why what he did was wrong beyond hurting his aunt. That is, he doesn’t seem to have gained insight into the complexity of the Quran and the pitfalls of reading portions of it out of context; nor does he seem to have any awareness of the 7th Century sociopolitical atmosphere that led to conflicts between Muhammad and other traders and thus informed the Quran. Moreover, he shows no insight into how contemporary politics also affect interpretation of the teachings of Muhammad by the imams in the mosques. Finally, in spite of numerous instances of Hayat being confronted by hypocrisy by adherents of Islam, he never reflects upon what this might mean. In summary, Hayat shows no insight over anything; there is only regret that his scheming turned out worse than he hoped it would.

To me, it seemed like the author was giving Hayat redemption for confessing. That felt shallow to me, and not enough justification for reading through the whole story; I would have been more satisfied from redemption through some self-awareness.

Evaluation: This book provides an interesting look at the life of Muslims in America, but the plot was ultimately unsatisfying to me.
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LibraryThing member ecataldi
This was a beautifully crafted masterpiece. The eloquence of the words, the power of the plot, and the wonderfully developed and flawed characters come together to form a twenty-first century literary marvel.

Told through the naive eyes of a young Pakistani American boy, Hayat recounts his youth and the summer that changed his life forever, the summer when his mother's best friend, Mina, came to America with her five year old son to seek refuge from her ex-husband. Through Mina, Hayat learns about his religious roots (something his parents never bothered with) and slowly falls in love with the Quran and Mina herself. But when Mina starts to fall for Nathan, a young Jewish man, Hayat finds himself at a crossroads and the decisions he makes will haunt him forever.

Pakistani and Muslim culture shines brightly in this novel. It's a real eye opener. A must read.

Side note, I listened to the audiobook version which is narrated by the author and I HIGHLY recommend it. Ayad Akhtar can switch in between accents seamlessly and bring to life Muslim culture with his Quranic recitations and chants.
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LibraryThing member Jcambridge
American Dervish is a terrific coming-of-age story with the additional challenges of being part of an immigrant community in the Midwest. There are a number of complex characters in this story, as well as an examination of religious beliefs and biases. It generated lively discussion among members of the bookclub, who varied widely in age and religious backgrounds. It helped me understand a bit more about Islam and religion in general. The patriarchal focus of virtually all major religions is an issue that merits greater attention.… (more)
LibraryThing member glade1
Loved this book! It is beautifully written and presents a complex, moving picture of a boy growing up Muslim in the U.S. Wonderful coming-of-age story. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member dreamingbear
Interesting. I thought it did a decent job illustrating the divergence within Muslim communities (or at least this one fictional representation of a Muslim community) between what I consider the progressives and the traditionalists.
LibraryThing member jo-jo
As a Christian I wasn't sure how I would appreciate a novel that goes into the life of a Muslim family. I do appreciate the story that Akhtar shared with us, giving us honest glimpses of how people are treated both within their religion and those on the outside. The story is about young Hyat, who has grown up with privileges in the United States, that his family still in Pakistan with never experience.

Although Hyat is growing up in a Muslim home, his parents are not devout Muslims. They do not attend the mosque meetings regularly or even pray daily. When Hyat's mother's best friend comes from Pakistan to live with them, she is the one to reveal the Muslim religion to him. She gives Hyat his own Quran and starts to give him personal lessons to help him comprehend it's meaning.

Hyat puts his Muslim religion before all else as he prays daily and starts the process of memorizing and studying his Quran. After certain events take place with non-Muslims, Hyat's father becomes more distanced from the Muslim faith. In a moment of frustration and anger his father even goes so far as to prohibit Hyat from reading the Quran ever again. But Hyat has the will-power to conduct his studies privately.

As the story unfolds, Hyat learns that his Muslim faith is not what he expected. He doesn't understand how people that are unforgiving and selfish seem to be the same ones that are highly favored by their God. Mina tells him to find the answers within himself, while the elders set him on a different journey.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book giving me a glimpse into a culture as it attempts to cross with an American way of life. Akhtar did a great job narrating this novel, breathing life into Hyat's character, celebrating his happiness and grieving over his frustrations. With themes of family, faith, and truths, you may enjoy this book as much as I did. I highly recommend this novel for either personal leisure or as a book club discussion.
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LibraryThing member Smits
A strong novel filled with the interplay between religion and modern life. Religion in the form of Muslim interpretation of the Quoran. I found this very interesting and so well written from the point of view of Hayat, a young American- Pakistani boy.
LibraryThing member gayla.bassham
I liked this book a lot. It is a thoughtful look at the tensions between religious belief and modern life. The main characters in the book are Muslim, and I certainly thought it provided an interesting perspective on Islam, but this book really is about religious belief in the main. I had some severe problems with the ending--Sunil is given no depth at all, and there were too many elements of melodrama for my taste--but it's a book that is very much worth your time.… (more)
LibraryThing member LoveAtFirstBook
American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar was a book that I enjoyed.

Hayat is a character that I just wanted to yell at! I really liked him, but could see him going down the wrong path a few times. But that made me more engaged in the story itself.

This book takes you into a small piece of the Muslim world in America. The characters in the book are torn with feelings about Jews: some see them as completely terrible as “evidenced” (reading the literal, as some sects of religions do with the Bible and Torah) in the Quran, while others read something opposite in the same words.

For the full review, visit Love at First Book
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LibraryThing member gbelik
This is a coming of age story of a young American Muslim boy. Hayat is the only child of a secular and unfaithful father and a mother unhappy about her husband and nostalgic for Pakistan. His beautiful and religious Aunt Mina arrives, fleeing her ex-husband and hoping to shield her son from him by coming to America. Hayat loves her and thus the faith she shows him and hopes to save his erring family from hell by learning the Koran by memory. When Mina falls in love with a Jewish man and has hopes to remarry in spite of their differences, Hayat interferes and ruins the union. Further troubles for Mina follow and Hayat has reason to regret both his behavior and his faith. An excellent story, well told.… (more)
LibraryThing member sidiki
A neat portrayal of Pakistani American family with issues regarding marriage of a Muslim woman with a non Muslim man with or without conversion to Islam versus with someone within the Muslim community. Differences of opinion regarding religion within the Pakistani society is dealt with sincerity and honesty. I had a pleasurable time reading it while walking on the treadmill… (more)


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