‘Homeland Elegies’ by Ayad Akhtar.
It’s hard to pin an exact label on “Homeland Elegies.” Ayad Akhtar’s book is part-novel, part-fictional memoir, in which the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama explores contemporary America, dissecting its greed, politics and religious divisions in sparkling, thought-provoking prose.
The book is full of memorable characters, especially the maudlin mother of the American-born narrator, a woman who misses her native Pakistan.
She is married to a money-obsessed immigrant, who was once Trump’s heart doctor. The father’s love of money is at the core of the story.
The book opens on the anniversary of Trump’s first year in office, the former television star’s political rise seen as an inevitable consequence of an era where the “terrifying lust for unreality has engulfed us all.”
Few seem to care that Trump is clearly a man of “wilful mendacity and vulgarity.” But then again, Akhtar sees in America “a nation in thrall to our own stupidity.”
Akhtar’s book constantly provokes, encouraging you to think in different ways about the people at the top.
“Homeland Elegies” is also a discourse on alienation from the culture of a new land to which your parents emigrated.
The terror attack of 9/11 is described as a day that “changed Muslim lives in America forever” and the book deals with some of the fallout, including tense, scary anecdotes about what it’s like to face racism.
In the eight chapters, bookended by an overture and a coda, Akhtar discusses the American denial of ageing and death, the “narcotic dependence” on phones, the daesh death cult, the hatred between rural areas and cities in America and corporate medical corruption.
The extensive use of the author’s own life — and the deliberate blurring of the line between fiction and autobiography — raises questions.
Was he really a “pig with women” during a period of success? Did Trump really introduce the narrator’s father to the world of high-class prostitutes?
The hard streaks of honesty are just part of the appeal of a fascinating book, bursting with “turns of phrases as sharp as a German paring knife.”
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