The book begins on a highly amusing note as a response to Islamophobic hate mail and maintains a bitingly humorous tone throughout as a faux guide to becoming a true 'Amreekan.' Yet, Ali's coming-of-age experiences as a brown Muslim man are anything but hilarious. What emerges from these vulnerable and witty accounts of personal ups and downs is a larger picture of America's troubled, complex relationship with brown, Muslim, and immigrant communities. Ali doesn't pull any punches when expressing his righteous anger against things like the moderate Muslim trope, mass incarceration, systemic racism, socio-economic inequality, and more. Scathing political commentary about both Republicans and Democrats is supported with requisite data and historical facts. He leavens and seasons all of that skillfully with comedy, popular cultural references from the U.S. and Pakistan, and a deeply warm affection for the family and friends who've always been there for him ... Ali writes that he rejects the nostalgia for the past that people like this uncle often harbor, still praising the likes of Rumi from 700 years ago, and asks them to invest in the Rumis of today who are dreaming of becoming poets or playwrights and just need a bit of encouragement. For those budding Rumis — of any age and any shade of brown or Black — this memoir reveals one possible path to their personal version of the 'Amreekan dream.'
... offers solid advice for Ali’s fellow travelers but ultimately isn’t able to overcome the one crucial hurdle demanded by populist America: You must be white to belong ... Ali includes a number of illuminating history lessons throughout ... If only simple humanity like this could win out every time. In Go Back to Where You Came From, Wajahat Ali invites us to do our part to make sure it does.
Ali has an interesting life story to share as the son of Pakistani immigrants who came to America in the 1960s ... Readers could be forgiven if, halfway into the story, they are confounded by the satire-to-memoir ratio leaning heavily toward political critique over life story. It makes for a meandering opening, albeit one with cuttingly funny moments. It also seems like it could be the basis for a different book entirely, a broader critique of American bigotry and short-sightedness. The book hits its stride with the chapter 'Avoid Jail.' From that point forward Ali shares a more focused, better-developed account of his life beginning in his late teens. That life is complex and surprising and enough to sustain interest and carry the story to a satisfying, but hardly easy, conclusion ... had the first half of Go Back featured a sharper, more balanced critque more closely tied to his rich life experiences, the entire book could have been more compelling.
The author’s views on racism and Islamophobia are deeply researched, nuanced, and clear, and he is adept at weaving these ideas into his life story organically and without pretense. His conversational voice renders even the most complex concepts a pleasure to read. The only exception is the set of chapters on his family’s incarceration. Tonally, these read quite differently than the rest of the book, perhaps due to the highly emotional nature of the material. While Ali structures the chapters as a series of tips about how to be American, what truly unifies his story is his vulnerability in sharing some of the most intimate and painful moments of his life ... A Pakistani American memoir that shines with passion, intelligence, and humor.