... 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.
... 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...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.
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.
... 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.
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.
...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.
... 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.
... [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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.