“Homeland Elegies” is a complex, part novel, part memoir about an American Muslim’s complicated relationship with his country and his family. The novel begins with a letter from the author to his readers, explaining the intent of the novel. “I wrote Homeland Elegies in something of a fever dream after my mother passed away, and after Donald Trump’s election…I wanted to remember what it was that brought them here…fifty years ago…Above all, I wanted to remember what this half-century had been for us…Elegies, then, for homelands of various sorts, as told by the child of a generation, caught between notions of home, of success, of belonging, and most of all, of America.”
The novel begins with the author talking about his college professor, May Moroni, who significantly influenced him and encouraged his writing. The novel ends with him lecturing at her college many years later. But the time between…
Ayad’s parents, both physicians, were Muslim immigrants from Pakistan. His father was excited to be in America and his mother longed for home. His father was a well-regarded cardiologist, with a specialty in Brugada syndrome, a rare heart rhythm disorder. It was this specialty that brought him into contact with Donald Trump in 1993. Trump had been experiencing heart palpitations and Brugada was suspected. Trump flew Dr. Sikander Akhtar into New York and he began to run tests and provide treatment. By 1997 it was determined that Mr. Trump’s condition was not Brugada and the relationship ended, but Dr. Akhtar was a devoted supporter of Mr. Trump. Dr. Akhtar suffered constant financial reversals, initially due to his efforts to become a real estate baron and ultimately due to his addiction to gambling and alcohol.
Ayad’s mother had seen absolute horror as a child during the partition of India and Pakistan and was fearful of India and devoted to Pakistan. The relationship between mother and father is complicated. Ayad’s mother had been in love with another medical student, Latif, who was promised in marriage to Anjum. Anjum and Latif also moved to America and the two couples remained friends. Latif ultimately became disenchanted with America, its materialism and the impact America was having on his children and moved the family back to Pakistan. In Peshwar Pakistan, Latif provided medical care for the needy. The United States government paid for the clinic. However, the clinic was also used for American intelligence and provided medical care for mujahedeen fighters from across the border. Ultimately, after the Americans left Afghanistan, Larif was killed in a “raid” targeting a terrorist Muslim network.
Ayad decides to become a writer and it is a struggle at first. His aunt, Asma, a professor of literature and critical theory at University of Connecticut, warns him that it is a hard life and that he should always be respectful of his own people in his work. After a particularly shocking experience of bigotry, Ayad “would soon begin a series of works founded on my own unwillingness to pretend I was not conflicted about my country or my place in it. Paradoxically, these were the works that would lead to me finally finding my way as a writer in my American homeland…”
While putting on a play in New York, Ayad is introduced to wealthy hedge fund manager, Riaz Rind, who had read the play’s script, contributed to its production and attended the play. The two become friendly and Rind shares with Ayad his frustrations with white Americans. “In this country the white majority is basically blind to the worst in themselves. They see themselves in the image of their best, and they see us in the image of their worst.” Riaz has a foundation and invites Ayad to sit on its Board. Ayad meets all kinds of wealthy and famous people, travels with Riaz and experiences a very wealthy side of life. As he gets to know Riaz better, Riaz tells him about his childhood. His parents came to America from Pakistan and settled in Pennsylvania. His father was thwarted from starting a mosque in Wiles-Barre and Scranton. The family was subjected to blatant discrimination in both places.
Riaz starts a new investment business. Ayad’s had inherited approximately $300,000 from his mother which he invests in Riaz’s business and Ayad becomes very wealthy. A number of municipalities, particularly in Pennsylvania, also invest and lose most of their money.
Ayad describes various other relationships, both romantic and otherwise. He experiences various incidents of blatant discrimination based solely on the color of his skin and religion. He describes his writing practices and his ability to perceive certain things before they happen. The books ends when his father moves back to Pakistan after suffering through a medical malpractice trial infused with racism. Ayad concludes that America had become a place where the accumulation of wealth had become the only purpose. When his father escapes his financial difficulties in America he seemed to find peace.
The novel is interesting, thought provoking and provides a unique perspective on the lives most of us take for granted. It is not in any way a traditional novel and it is not an easy read. You can reserve a copy of the novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.
From Briefs to Books was recently featured in Ohio and Kentucky Super Lawyers Magazine. To see the feature in Super Lawyers, click here.