... remarkable ... a phenomenal coalescence of memoir, fiction, history and cultural analysis ... One of the most fascinating themes of this tour de force is the sustained tension between memoir and invention that runs through any creative person’s life ... Akhtar’s portrait of the artist as a young Muslim exposes both his vanity and his capacity for obsequiousness, particularly around wealthy people ... Everywhere one can hear Akhtar’s award-winning ear for dialogue that conveys the unexpected rhythms of conversation and drama. But what’s surprising is his equally engaging mode as a lecturer. Personal episodes mingle effectively with engaging disquisitions on, say, the dilution of antitrust law ... paradox runs like a wire through this book, which so poignantly expresses the loneliness of pining for one’s own homeland.
... scampers between memoir and fiction ... Akhtar is not only a brilliant author but one who seems the presumptive legatee for what could be called the Rushdian tradition. Being a Rushdian means no simplistic mimicry of magic realism, of which Rushdie is a master, but rather a searing (and often sneering) dissection of the recurrent themes of our age: family, migration, religion, and capitalism ... Rendered through Akhtar’s deft cinematic telling, the characters are memorable and almost familiar ... does not have the fantastical stylish flourishes of Rushdie’s fiction, but it has a flavor that is rather similar to Rushdie’s own memoir, Joseph Anton ... a blurring and entangling of the real and the fictive such that the boundaries between the two disappear ... treads deftly through decades of historical ground ... can also be construed as an elegy for an America that no longer exists, a post-9/11 America, when only Muslims (rather than Blacks, Hispanics, and everyone else) were the singular enemy and systemic racism was far from being acknowledged as a problem by presidential candidates. The pulsing beat of Ayad Akhtar’s incisive and masterful work underscores this, as does his own transformation so aptly chronicled in the book.
Ostensibly a novel, Homeland Elegies reads more like a collection of essays, centering around a series of instructive scenes rather than a linear plot. Though it occasionally divulges in lengthy internal monologues, much of the argumentation is dressed down and dramatized in conversations ... What distinguishes Akhtar’s novel is the agency he assigns Muslims ... Impressively, the vital ideas presented here might be outshined by Akhtar’s talents as a writer. What could be a cumbersome read is made propulsive by his observant eye for character, rapier wit and indelible turns of phrase ... Akhtar is cementing his place as one of America’s most vital writers working today.
Akhtar...deftly weaves politics, family, friendship, capitalism, work and the eternal existential crisis of being 'American' into a tapestry of form that includes essay, lyric passages and dialogue in its pattern (which, like America, is somewhat chaotic) ... Akhtar’s playwriting chops are clear in the searing, humorous, fast-moving dialogue...in sections that are truly a feat of observation of human behavior and language. Layered with political overtones is an impressive level of detail in setting, action and dreams, the latter of which hold court over the story in both a literal and metaphorical sense ... Dreams and mundaneness function beautifully as allegories for living a life in this fictional/nonfictional world, which can fairly be described as vivid and messy, not unlike this book.
... a beautiful novel about an American son and his immigrant father that has echoes of The Great Gatsby and that circles, with pointed intellect, the possibilities and limitations of American life ... This novel gets off to a slow start ... One wonders when Akhtar’s book will settle, and when he will find a direction in which to aim his stories. One wonders for about 85 perceptive but drifting pages. He’s been tuning up ... Many of the most powerful moments in Homeland Elegies deal with the narrator’s life in the years after 9/11. There are powerfully written scenes of confrontation (you can see the film in this novel) between Akhtar and cops, strangers and others who are suspicious of him ... electric footnotes ... There is good writing about Salman Rushdie and Edward Said and syphilis and hoof stew and Scranton, Pa., and screenwriting, among many other things ... a very American novel. It’s a lover’s quarrel with this country, and at its best it has candor and seriousness to burn.
Akhtar’s storytelling is at its best as he recounts this unraveling [of his father]. His father’s outrageous and maudlin downfall brings together many of the polemical points of the nove...without sacrificing any of the absurd contingencies that the best characters in fiction—or real life—often carry ... it is hard to see what value Homeland Elegies’ digressions about Islam have, besides representing a minority group before the majority of a society that is reflexively anxious, if not hostile, toward this religion ... Even as Akhtar’s writing critiques the politics of representation, he carries on speaking in the American idiom of identity. His book articulates the problem sharply and carefully, but he isn’t able to overcome it.
... superb ... a remarkable book ... It doesn’t really matter if every word is true. What matters is that this Ayad is determined to make us understand what it means to be a first generation Muslim-American in a country that many of us have idealized, to our peril. What Ayad reveals, with stunning detail and a passion and an urgency rarely seen in American fiction, is that his is a story marked by a loneliness similar to that found in Melville, Dreiser, and T.S. Eliot, among others, and that puts him squarely in their company ... Although his work could fall into the category called auto-fiction which I usually find unbelievably boring, this is prose that sweeps you along, whether you want to go or not, and embraces the reader in a story that’s so compelling you feel you are a participant. His subject is, like his idol Whitman, America itself. And how our ideas of who we are shape who we are, often in ways both subtle and destructive. Yet how those very ideas and ideals keep us going in a world that is increasingly complicated and often bleak ... exactly what its title suggests: a brilliant look at America right now, and far more than a history lesson or a picaresque journey. Thus, it minces no words about how our capitalist system has corrupted all of us — perhaps beyond any hope of redemption — and how money often ruins lives; how sex and power have too much leverage; how we are now, finally, beginning to face the music. It takes great courage to write a novel of such breadth, a novel which, in its meticulous accounting of so many aspects of American life, gives us a picture of our country as moving and as devastating as Roth’s American Pastoral. Even its form signals something new and exciting. Although it may strike some readers as a baggy monster because of its ability to move the narrative into so many places, it is anything but. The precision and the beauty of the prose are exemplary, every word counts and every path explored gives this novel not only a clear trajectory, but also an intimacy that only first-class fiction possesses. This is a novel that takes real risks, risks that just add to its power to connect to its readers ... a gritty, penetrating look at our country from a badly needed perspective. A look at our flawed, money-grubbing country, whose inequities have gone ignored for too long. A book that delves deep because its narrator cannot sit by and watch the place he considers home go to the dogs. A book that refuses to fall for the clichés of smugness and celebration that cloud our vision. A book that can ease the loneliness we have all been living with and that can encourage us to the 'new beginnings' we have been so unable to foresee for far too long.
If you've already read Camus’s The Plague and have been searching for the perfect pre-apocalyptic fiction work to help you navigate our current affairs, this book may be just the provocation ... masterful storytelling for these disturbing times ... One does world literature a disservice here to assert that Homeland Elegies is among the first masterpieces of the Trumpian era, because if anyone is literature’s antihero it would be Donald J. Trump. Yet without the presence of such an ignominious central character, the reader’s experience would be nowhere near as excruciating, nor as enjoyable ... roves a compelling read from first page to last, not only for the seduction of peering into Ayad Akhtar’s private life, with its elegant articulations and obvious love of the English language, but because he is not afraid to lob incendiary bombs at the reader to threaten our sacred cows.
... fiercely eloquent ... This question of how to establish an identity — and all the influences that sustain it — pulses through the narrative ... the narrative unfolds between nations, with Akhtar drawing stark but beautifully written parallels between places such as the military-heavy city of Abbottabad and Scranton ... Philip Roth once wrote of his characters containing a 'multitudinous intensity of polarities,' a description fitting for Akhtar’s writing. Akhtar, like any writer worth his salt, becomes the sum of his contradictions, and his characters the expressive result.
Akhtar’s skill at dialogue is on full display here ... Akhtar circles seamlessly from his individual experiences, such as when he is racially profiled by police, to the larger social and economic landscape, tracing the corrosive effects of scorched-earth political rhetoric and late capitalism. Along the way, he tackles subjects as wide-ranging as the leveraging of debt, the corporatization of healthcare, the exorbitant cost of college, and a fascinating account of Robert Bork’s role in deregulating the U.S. financial system (and by fascinating, I mean appalling). Yet Homeland Elegies is less polemical than all this may sound, due to the richness of Akhtar’s characters and their varied journeys and fierce debates ... An incisive critique of American culture.
... one of the core assets of this fine and deeply moving piece of writing is the complexity of its thinking, its innate understanding that seeing the absurdity of worshiping American exceptionalism in this most incurious of nations does not mean you cannot also see the similar peril of subsuming one’s mind to a theocracy outside its borders ...
...brilliant ... At various points of the book, you may be tempted to go online to see if they’re really true. But as you get swept up in the sprawling story, you begin to realize that the Akhtar of the book is a blend of many voices and characters ... a searingly honest, brutally funny, sometimes painful-to-read account of being a Muslim in America before and after 9/11.
Akhtar is an intrepid narrator ... evocative ... In a novel that blurs fact and fiction, Akhtar meditates on what is real, what is imaginary, and what has been hiding in plain sight ... The book’s stream of consciousness, absorbing prose and, at times, frenetic pace reflect this rigorous writing routine. Each scene embodies a sharp rendering of minutiae. Some paragraphs stretch to pages in length. It’s as if Akhtar worries that the details might evaporate from his mind if he doesn’t memorialize them on paper quickly enough. With this style, he succeeds in seamlessly weaving together threads about bigotry, nationalism and grief ... Akhtar’s rapturous reckoning with this terror.
... moving and confrontational ... a cascade of scenes and stories that vibrate with the stressful contradictions of an American Muslim life ... The many unacknowledged failures of American policy and the coarsening of popular attitudes form the matrix in which Akhtar’s stories grow. He has an unerring sense for the sore spots, the bitter truths that have emerged from this history ... Homeland Elegies is presented as a novel, Akhtar’s second, but often reads like a series of personal essays, each one illustrating yet another intriguing facet of the narrator’s prismatic identity. Like all autofiction, it induces the slightly prurient frisson of 'truthiness,' the genre’s signature affect ... The reader’s experience of the book is one of fragmentation. Akhtar tells stories that fracture and ramify and negate. Sometimes they’re comic, like the visit to an absurd Sufi ceremony led by an Austrian heiress. Sometimes they’re wrenchingly tragic ... Akhtar arranges people and situations with a dramatist’s care to expose the fault lines where community or communication cracks. Sometimes, the pieces seem almost too carefully arranged ... The unease reaches a high pitch with the narrator’s trip to Los Angeles ... The narrator splutters that 'my favorite writers are all Jewish.' The absurdity of this, essentially a version of 'Some of my best friends are Black,' is like that of a punchline in a brilliant but queasy racial farce, one written to make the audience look away, and wonder when they’ll be able to leave the theater.
... [a] courageous and timely novel, deftly interweaving fact and fiction, memoir and history ... It’s hard to convey the breadth and brilliance of this work. Exploiting his skills as playwright and essayist as well as novelist, Akhtar depicts an immigrant family’s experience of the American dream through a son’s relationship with his father, and dissects the erosion of truth, decency and hope in a nation shaped by debt and money.
... an immigrant saga unlike any other. Discarding the traditional fresh-off-the-boat three acts (we left, we suffered, I returned to my native country and tried to learn the language), Akhtar folds time and space to produce a mesmerizing portrait of a Muslim Pakistani family ... Homeland Elegies is singular in its richness, inventiveness, and braininess and the fiery candor with which Akhtar chars nearly every sentence. It speaks to his gifts that a novel so ruminative and digressive is also bursting with page-turning head-blowers ... The novel builds a devastating case for the limits of our country even as it describes its nigh-irresistible allure. For me, this is the book of the year.
At a time when the very nature of truth is disputed, the book fittingly mixes memoir and novel ... The first half of the book is particularly compelling ... some conversations in the middle of the book—about hedge funds, about Robert Bork—lack much context and seem like isolated lectures. The speech about astrology given by a romantic interest is tiresome, which is ironic since it is delivered by an educated lawyer ... In such moments, the dramatist Akhtar seems to have left the novelistic realm to provide speeches resembling monologues in a play. That is tied to a larger difficulty. A few sections in the middle of the novel lose the narrative thread to become separate stories connected only by the consciousness of the protagonist/narrator/author ... In the last third of the book, though, Akhtar returns to the subject of his family and sees larger social issues through the lens of the people he knows best. This section includes a beautifully dramatized courtroom scene, complete with stage directions. Thus Akhtar fulfills the ambition of this book: to analyze 21st century American culture while dramatizing the life of a sensitive participant and observer of it ... To find meaning and humanity in confusing times and to convey that understanding to the reader is the ultimate gift a writer can provide.
The book’s most nuanced sections involve Akhtar’s father, a complicated man who grows to like Donald Trump after treating the future president for a mysterious ailment in the 1990s. In a powerful closing chapter, Akhtar documents his father’s disillusion with Trump as part of a larger story of a malpractice suit in which the elder Akhtar’s religion is a complicating factor ... Despite long tangents, Homeland Elegies shows what American life is like for people with dark skin, as when Akhtar and his father park their car poorly outside a convenience store, a miscue that gives a gun-toting white man an excuse to hurl racist imprecations. For readers unaware of such assaults, Akhtar’s latest will be a rude awakening, and an important one.
... A searing entrant in the burgeoning field of popular auto-fiction ... Homeland Elegies is as elastic in shape as it is dazzling in execution ... Akhtar’s forceful, direct prose conveys a poetic sense of anguish ... So maybe this is more than a novel. It’s a document — furious, unwieldy, tragic — of our time.
If avoiding categorizations is what allowed Akhtar to pull off this masterful combination of essay and diary, I’m glad he did ... intellectual explorations of identity and self-presentation are coupled with deep emotional urgency ... Some readers may be put off by his occasional long paragraphs recounting all the famous people he’s met, or the repeated mentions of his Pulitzer Prize as if it’s new information each time. The book’s register can be uneven, too, its natural rhythms jolted by bursts of obscure vocabulary. For the book’s narrator, though, all this posturing might just be another means to stake his claim to a readership that resists him ... With its insight and honesty, Homeland Elegies deserves to be read widely during this polarizing election year, when the once porous boundaries between friend and foe are deepening into trenches.
What emerges is similar to a Calder mobile, an original assemblage of bright colors and jagged shards that move and twirl into a coherent, strikingly beautiful whole ... Homeland Elegies unfolds across a mash of forms, from family saga to political op-ed to Muslim history ... As with Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the narrative proper may be a farce, with the real action unfolding in a series of carefully inserted footnotes. Each section conjures its own erudite magic ... moments of vulnerability enrich our understanding. Homeland Elegies, then, is a multitude of elegies: for Akhtar’s ancestral Pakistan, for an America that’s lost its way, for Islam, for his youth, for the act of storytelling itself. And yet here he’s forged something vivid, compelling and possibly new.
The reactions of this novel's American Muslim characters to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are too complex and subtle to summarize in a sentence, but I think it's fair to quote Ayad's thought that they emerged from the tragedy 'at once suspects and victims' ... he digs deeply into internecine cultural conflicts, and into the perplexing condition of being slotted by outsiders into a stereotypical religious pigeonhole while not being so observant about that religion ... Readers who have not seen his play Junk or who think of Akhtar only as a chronicler of Muslim Americans, may be surprised by the intensity of his critique of corrosive capitalism ... an embrace of a complicated and difficult patrimony, personal and cultural.
... affirms [Ayad's] talent for storytelling and dazzling prose. This tale composed of many tales also delivers a blistering critique of America’s trajectory over the past 20 years ... Again and again Mr Akhtar returns to the question of belonging, in both senses. Whose America is this really? Attacks on corporate power and Reaganomics round out his jeremiad from the left. But even readers whose politics differ will be enthralled. The registers somehow fit together, as Scheherazade meets Cassandra in a chain of stories and dreams. He has hit on an ingenious form for the snapshot age of Instagram, as he updates an enduring American drama: from rags to riches—and back again.
... simultaneously a poignant reflection of the complexities of being a Muslim writer in post-9/11 America as well as a tender and funny tribute to [Ayad's] parents, particularly his father ... Nothing is off limits for Akhtar: he writes about his checkered dating life with a Muslim woman he falls in love with and whose parting gift is syphilis. Every stereotype harbored about Muslims is shattered, from his whiskey-loving father to Riaz, the venture capitalist/gay philanthropist. In these moments of comedic exuberance, Akhtar is reminiscent of the early Salman Rushdie and of Hanif Kureishi. However, unlike these writers of an earlier generation, Akhtar’s quest for multiracial belonging is far more ardent during a moment in history that has unleashed even deeper layers of intolerance.
Anyone seeking a revealing portrait of the life of Muslim Americans in the two decades after 9/11 can find it in Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and novelist Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies. But its searing depiction of contemporary America is equally essential reading in this time of profound crisis for the country ... Akhtar excels in crafting a collection of striking set pieces that illuminate the novel’s themes of alienation and persistent unease ... What it means to be home and what it means to adapt to a new, often hostile, culture are but two of the big ideas Ayad Akhtar explores with sensitivity and depth in Homeland Elegies. It isn’t a difficult novel, but it’s a complex and challenging one. Its unblinking assessments of American life in a time of unprecedented change for both natives and immigrants feel especially urgent.
... impressive ... the author turns his own phenomenally successful American story inside out, eloquently exposing fault lines that persist for those viewed as outsiders in their country of birth ... profoundly intimate vignettes ... Akhtar dissects themes of Muslim self-identity with incredible precision. Longlisted for the ALA's Andrew Carnegie Medal, Homeland Elegies will appeal to readers secure in their sense of belonging as well as those who, like Ayad, wrestle with feelings of otherness.
... the author’s observations felt not only unsparingly honest, but also disturbingly recognisable. Even if not everything described had been experienced by the author, it felt without doubt that they had happened to someone and that underpinned the story with a disturbing authenticity ... Throughout the story the author’s prose is supremely eloquent, passionate and thought-provoking. Although it’s immediately engaging, compelling and page-turning in its intensity, nevertheless, as I was reading I found myself needing to stop frequently, either to think about something which I found challenged me to think about something in a different way, or just to re-read a section which so clearly and precisely captured what had led to a particular moment in history ... By the time I’d finished reading I felt that I’d seen not only into the heart and soul of the narrator’s life, his struggles with identity and how to present himself to a world which viewed him with suspicion, but also into the heart and soul of a nation, and a world, which has lost its moral compass and was so profoundly changed by 9/11. This is such an insightful, challenging and thought-provoking story (although it does also contain some very humorous moments!) that it feels impossible to encapsulate its complexity in a short review. What I can do is urge you to read it and discover for yourself the insights this story offers.
This achingly intimate novel-cum-memoir from Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Akhtar...searingly explores the existential questions consuming immigrants in the United States ... But the beating heart of this novel is his complex relationship with his father and with his homeland ... The personal is political in this beautiful, intense elegy for an America that often goes awry while still offering hope.
... a bold, memoiristic tale ... an array of fascinating characters with different insights into the American character ... Money, and the debasement of other values, is a defining element of Akhtar’s relationship with his writing and his father, while the crude racism unleashed by 9/11 prods them both to question whether America can ever truly be their home.
... a range of memorable characters ... One comes to this book not for the pleasures of conventional narrative fiction (though Akhtar certainly can spin a tale); this is a novel of restless exploration that finds no pat answers about what it means to be a Muslim American today. A profound and provocative inquiry into an artist’s complex American identity.
... wrenching ... Akhtar’s work is a provocative and urgent examination of the political and economic conditions that shape personal identity, especially for immigrants and communities of color. With an audacious channeling of Philip Roth’s warts-and-all approach to the story of an American writer and his family, this tragicomedy is a revelation.