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Homeland Elegies (2020)

by Ayad Akhtar

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4562741,994 (4.1)47
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The story is well written and intellectually challenging. Akhtar writes in a form of meta fiction where the protagonist has his name and many reference points match those of the author, but cautions that this is a story and not autobiography. The narrative unfolds in various stories about his life, from growing up in Wisconsin with a father, a renowned heart specialist who once cared for Trump, to a mother who pined to go back to Pakistan and grieved over the murder of the man she truly loved. There are scenes of Akbar's own education from his aunt in Pakistan to college professors, one of whom convinces his to record his dream. We read of his economic understanding of the world according to Robert Bork’s contributions to the elimination of checks on private enterprise, and how he benefits from the insider market help of a friend. In addition there are personal stories about his experiences as Muslim after 9/11 and his ventures into romance. After reading the novel I happened upon an interview on a podcast called Tin House where the author further impressed with his sheer intellectual bounty of reflections and his ability to articulate how his reading and education shaped his writing.
NYT
For Ayad Akhtar, the Trump presidency has led to “Homeland Elegies,” 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...
There’s a lot more in this novel. There is good writing about Salman Rushdie and Edward Said (one of the narrator’s aunts really wanted to get him into bed) and syphilis and hoof stew and Scranton, Pa., and screenwriting, among many other things...
Homeland Elegies” is a very American novel. It’s a lover’s quarrel with this country, and at its best it has candor and seriousness to burn.

I would highly recommend this book but only for the reader that will give it the attention it will need.
Lines:
I date my mother's intensifying anti Americanism to that summer, the summer when, in response to attacks on two US embassies in East Africa, Bill Clinton bombed a Sudanese medicine factory. When Mother-herself a doctor trained in the Third World-learned that the factory had been responsible for producing every ounce of Sudan's tuberculosis medications, she was particularly incensed. She already despised Clinton for his indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky, and the attack on the factory came three days after Clinton's disastrous address in which he admitted he'd been lying about the affair all along. She saw in this sequence a murderous cynicism: an American president under political siege distracts the nation by killing Muslims.”

It was from her that I first heard the analogy comparing love and arranged marriages to kettles of water pitched at different temperatures: the former already boiling, with no chance to get any hotter; the latter cold at the outset, requiring steady application to be sure but with ample room to heat up over the years.”

The established majority takes its we-image from a minority of its best, and shapes a they-image of the despised outsiders from the minority of their worst.”

Because being American is not about what they tell you—freedom and opportunity and all that horseshit. Not really. There is a culture here, for sure, and it has nothing to do with all the well-meaning nonsense. It’s about racism and money worship—and when you’re on the correct side of both those things? That’s when you really belong.”

Obama's victory had turned out to be little more than symbolic, only hastening our nation's long collapse into corporate autocracy, and his failures had raised the stakes immeasurably. Most Americans couldn't cobble together a week's expenses in case of an emergency. They had good reason to be scared and angry. They felt betrayed and wanted to destroy something. The national mood was Hobbesian: nasty, brutish, nihilistic-and no one embodied all this better than Donald Trump. Trump was no aberration or idiosyncrasy, as Mike saw it, but a reflection, a human mirror in which to see all we'd allowed ourselves to become. Sure, you could read the man for metaphors-an unapologetically racist real estate magnate embodying the rise of white property rights; a self-absorbed idiot epitomizing the rampant social self-obsession and narcissism that was making us all stupider by the day; greed and corruption so naked and endemic it could only be made sense of as the outsize expression of our own deepest desires-yes, you could read the man as if he were a symbol to be deciphered, but Mike thought it was much simpler than all that. Trump had just felt the national mood, and his particular genius was a need for attention so craven, so unrelenting, he was willing to don any and every shade of our moment's ugliness, consequences be damned. “ ( )
  novelcommentary | Aug 24, 2021 |
I learned a lot about attitudes toward the United States, and this was very illuminating. I did not care for much of the writing, nor all of the details of the author's life, but the education was worth it. I also may have enjoyed it as much as I did because I have seen some of the author's thooughtful plays. ( )
  suesbooks | Aug 21, 2021 |
Interesting tirade against the American social and economic mechanics that drive success-- that very thing, it should be said, Akhtar apologetically accepts in tones of contrition that sit like curdled milk in the reader's brain. The novel is smart and smartly written, but the reader must struggle through a morass of ego before gleaning an appreciation of Akhtar's skill. Although this reader did not enjoy Homeland Elegies as a novel, it does merit a reading should one desire to indulge in journalistic hijinks of the first degree. ( )
  karmambo | Aug 7, 2021 |
This is a semi-autobiographical novel of a first generation American Muslim Pakistani man and his father, an immigrant from Pakistan.

It’s a wonderful look at the problems of being a non-Hispanic brown man in America – you’re assumed to be Arab and an enemy, especially after the 9-11 attacks and especially if you are Muslim.

It’s a very political novel, as Trump occurs as a character for whom the protagonist’s father was briefly a cardiologist. Trump’s policies are examined in the light of making life more complicated for Muslim Americans.

The author also addresses how America is an oligarchy ruled by the money of the very rich. As few of the very rich are immigrants, we see how one very rich immigrant aspires to break into this class. In addition, we see the problems of a credit based society and how it can enslave people on the lower rungs.

There was one chapter towards the end that seemed to appear out of nowhere as a black man tells our protagonist why he is a Trump supporter and how he feels that will help him to the higher rungs of economic class.

Besides US politics, the author expands on the political and personal consequences when Britain partitioned Muslim Pakistan from Hindu India.

There is lots of food-for -thought in this book. I found it very readable, and feel that besides being entertained, I learned a bit about how the world works for others. What more can one ask from a novel? ( )
  streamsong | Jul 30, 2021 |
I really fought this book. I didn't want to but it had a couple of features that hit at areas where I am WAY too controlling. Firstly, it was really more a collection of linked short stories and essays that a singular narrative novel. I will say that as it went on it all coalesced much better but, and again I must stress that this is my fault, I found myself spending a lot of time trying to figure out how the opening essay meshed with the next chapter and so on. Once I let go of that I fell much more into the writing. Secondly, I don't know if I have ever read anything where the blurring of fact and fiction was more pronounced. I happen to have a good knowledge of Mr. Akhtar's bio and so I would be reading things I knew to be based on his real life and then it would veer off and I would not know if we were still writing fictionalized reality or not. I should NOT have been worried about this but it is just a facet of my personality. In the end this was an fascinating book that challenges you and makes you ask yourself questions about our country. His writing is just sublime, lines like "until the devices that enslave our minds had filled us with the toxic flotsam of a culture no longer worthy of the name" encapsulate complex ideas so succinctly. Nothing about this book is binary or easy. He questions himself a lot and does not try to give us all easy answers because, spoiler alert, there are none. All of what he writes about here is very pertinent, including the observation, not about mask wearing but applicable, "Instead of owning it, they slap you with moral rhetoric about why you’re wrong to make them do something they don’t want to do." I don't want to spoil it so I won't quote the last line of the book, even though I really want to because it really resonated with me. Suffice it to say, if you hear anyone saying that Mr. Akhtar is "anti-American" then you can be certain they have never read anything by him. ( )
  MarkMad | Jul 14, 2021 |
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