American Dervish

Ayad Akhtar's American Dervish is a coming-of-age story that dramatizes the combustibility of brand-new religious faith when mixed with naïve adolescent infatuation. Set within a community of Pakistani-Americans in 1980s Milwaukee, the novel begins from a secular viewpoint that allows the reader to gain an understanding of a variety of Islamic tenets and conduct along with the protagonist (including the non-whirling meaning of "dervish").

First-person narrator Hayat Shah slips back into his 10-year-old self to tell what happens when his mother's old friend Mina and her emotionally needy son flee an untenable custody situation in Pakistan to live with the Shahs in America. "Auntie Mina," a reader of Henry Miller and an intensely spiritual modern Muslim, turns out to be one of those people whose powerful charisma inspires unintended consequences, and soon Hayat's desire to please her leads him to memorize the Quran in opposition to his father's principled secularism.

The audiobook of American Dervish benefits greatly from the fact that its reader-author is also an actor, playwright and screenwriter. Akhtar creates distinctive accents and vocal personalities for each of his characters. The only moments that curl the ears are a few awkwardly detailed, repetitive descriptions of adolescent awakening, but these passing cringes are more than made up for by all the great dialogue-driven scenes with characters such as Hayat's appealingly tragic-comic mother, his no-nonsense neurologist dad, the community's oozily bombastic imam, the ethereal and embracing Mina and even her earnest and irksome suitors. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

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