BOONE—“American Dervish,” a coming of age novel and story of Muslim-American identity written by Ayad Akhtar, has been selected for Appalachian State University’s Summer Reading Program for 2013.
The book tells the story of Hayat Shah, a young boy from the Midwest who falls in love for the first time. His normal life of school and sports had been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and the often cold relationship of his parents who argue over things he is too young to understand. Then, suddenly, his mother’s friend, Mina, arrives and everything changes.
The novel is as much Mina’s story as it is Hayat’s. Her deep spirituality and fierce intelligence are brought into frequent and terrible conflict with her traditional culture, but these struggles also define her and inextricably shape the young Hayat.
“American Dervish” was published in 2012 and has been praised by numerous critics, including Kirkus Reviews, which concludes that the work is “engaging and accessible, thoughtful without being daunting.” Akhtar manages to balance “a moving exploration of the understanding and serenity Islam imparts to an unhappy preteen with an unsparing portrait of fundamentalist bigotry and cruelty.”
Dr. Clark Maddux, interim chair of Appalachian’s Summer Reading Committee noted that “this is a work that will resonate in many classes: global studies will find ample material for examinations of cultural identity and assimilation; women’s studies will wrestle with Mina’s almost mystical embrace of the idea of submission in Islam and the violence that she endures at the hands of her fundamentalist husbands; English and history classes will have the opportunity to examine the composition of narrative and the construction of history; psychology and sociology will be able discuss the development of personality and the development and preservation of social institutions.”
“Books can open the door to a better understanding of different cultures, beliefs and traditions,” said Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock. “Ayad Akhtar’s depiction of a young boy’s experiences influenced by two differing cultures can be one of many steps in understanding the similarities that often link people and nations.”
Akhtar is an American-born, first generation Pakistani-American from Milwaukee, Wis. A graduate of Brown University, he is the author of numerous screenplays and was the star and co-writer of “The War Within,” which was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay. “American Dervish” is his first novel. He will speak at the university’s Convocation on Sept. 10 and will open the Hughlene Bostian Frank Visiting Writers Series held on campus.