Cover Image: Homeland Elegies

Homeland Elegies

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Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar was an amazing read. The story is raw and enlightening, it was flooring getting Ayad's view and prospective post 9/11. While reading Ayad's story I was brought to tears a lot from the retelling of 9/11 and how Muslin people were treated afterwards. I know this book is a work of fiction with Ayad's memories but it totally reads like a heart wrenching memoir. I am really at a lost of words while writing this review because honestly there is nothing that I can say that could justify how amazing this book is. All I can add is, Homeland Elegies is a must read and will be in my top ten books EVER!!!
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It's easy to see why this book has won such acclaim.  Although categorized as literary fiction. the autobiographical details and similarities to the author's true life is evident.  The experiences of a Muslim family who immigrates to the US is intertwined with the family members who are born in America.  The picture is a disturbing one of what it feels like to struggle for acceptance here.
The connection to historical events and current Post 9/11 occurrences that the author explores lead us to examine life today, including the current political environment.,   Akhtar did a brilliant job of describing his various characters.  The father especially remained with me.,   The many stories all contributed to what it must be like to assimilate and be accepted, and the dire consequences that remain.  The message of understanding is a necessity.
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I was drawn in right away to the writing of Homeland Elegies. While it is fiction, it was based on the author’s own story. It’s a book about finding cultural identity in a country like the United States, and themes of family. 

I can’t gush enough for the way that Ayad Akhtar writes and the attention to detail. It was such a compelling read, and deserves all the stars!

*many thanks to Little Brown and Company, and Netgalley for the gifted copy
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I've been a longtime fan of Akhtar as a playwright, finding 3 of his 4 plays exemplary (I'll explain the one exception momentarily), so was eager to make my way through this odd hybrid of novel/memoir (which I guess makes it fall under the popular rubric 'auto-fiction') - especially once it found its way on to so many 'best of 2020' lists. And for the most part this didn't disappoint - most of the more personal stories were poignant, memorable and effective, making one all too painfully aware of how America has failed in its 'melting pot' ideals for too many. 

But several times within that narrative, the author got bogged down in political/economic theory - the sections depicting the careers of Riaz Rind and Robert Bork in particular - and I found my interest waning and my eyes glazing over in incomprehension - the same fault I found in his latest play, Junk: A Play, which seemed to require an MBA to decipher what was going on in it. And it is too bad the Literary Review suspended its 'Bad Sex in Writing Award' for this year, since several of the more purple passages in this would have been major contenders for THAT award as well! 

Be that as it may, the majority of the book I think will stay with me and make me contemplate the issues raised for some time to come, and it also made me interested in becoming an Akhtar completist and reading his first novel American Dervish as well. 

Many thanks to both Netgalley and Little Brown for the ARC, in exchange for this honest review.
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I would like to thank Little, Brown , and Company for a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Homeland Elegies is an excellent dissection of the immigrant experience. This is a novel that takes inspiration from his life while also taking alot of liberties. Many of the passages in the book feel like stream-of -consciousness explorations of a variety of topics like 9/11 and its impact on Muslim families living in the US, the 2016 election, and the current climate in academia. Donald trump actually is a significant character in the book, beginning with his first appearance early in the book.  Through conversations with his father, we see how one person's viewpoint on Trump is affected by the many events that happen up to the present day. Ayad Akhtar does an excellent job of capturing experiences shared by so many people who come to this country hoping for a better life. As a second-generation immigrant born in Staten Island but raised in Milwaukee, the author captures what it is like to be born somewhere  but still feel like you don't fit in. HE captures the desire to be liked and accepted.  He captures how being Muslim American in a post 9/11 world has shaped every facet of his life. I really enjoyed this book and I feel its the perfect read for the moment we are going through right now.
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This is by far one of the best books I've read in 2020. I've recommended it to numerous friends and family members.
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A fictional account that looks at the life of one Muslim family from immigrating to the US, raising a family away from their family and culture, and what life was like after 9/11 for Muslim people in the US. I really appreciated this conversation about what the experience was like and the story was very poignant and heartbreaking. I thought the writing was very good and the characters engaging.
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The only thing I did not love about this book was it was written as if it was a memoir, so it went back and forth between the timeline and it felt like the main character was writing his autobiography more so than a fictional story about these experiences. But this is my own personal thing as I was expecting something different. That said, the writing was great and I enjoyed reading from the main character's perspective!
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I am late getting to this one but glad I finally read. It has already been selected as one of the 10 best books of the year. 
For me, what appears to be a balanced blending of fact and fiction seems to work very well, especially given the times we live in. There were parts that blew me away while telling stories about his father, the Muslim American experience, making a fortune, and life in these times.
Overall I would definitely recommend and many thanks to the publisher for providing me with this drc available through netgalley.
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Through stories of not only his father but many individuals, Akhtar's quasi-autobiographical narrator attempts to portray the American experience as a whole. Like a literary Cubist, he draws upon the perspectives of both insiders and outsiders, showing a panoptic vision that brings us closer to understanding the nation's true form. Though telling stories of the past, Homeland Elegies ties itself to the present through the figure of Donald Trump. Trump looms throughout, an ominous specter in the book's peripheral vision, foreshadowing a future in which we all now live. However, it is not Trump that Akhtar is interested in — rather, it is the casualties of the system that made his election possible.

Full review at Bookbrowse
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I wouldn't be surprised to see Akhtar win another Pulitzer prize for his latest fictional novel that runs along the razor's edge of being a memoir. What identifies a great novel in my mind is one that shines a light on part of the human condition that one has never really considered before. What is it like to be identified as 'other' in your own homeland, the place of your birth? 

Ayad Akhtar is an award-winning Pakistani-American playwright, born on Staten Island, raised in Wisconsin, with parents who are both doctors--his father a rather famous cardiologist who has even treated Donald Trump. His father is a great lover of everything American; his mother, not so much. "Love for America and a firm belief in its supremacy--moral and otherwise--was creed in our home, one my mother knew not to challenge even if she didn't quite share it.' 

Much of this story is about the conflicting way father and son see what's important in life, what makes a person successful. His father has a different experience of life in America. As his close friend Sultan says, 'They call it a melting pot, but it's not. In chemistry, they have what they call a buffer solution--which keeps things together but always separated. That's what this country is. A buffer solution.'

After 9/11, Akhtar becomes aware of being considered 'other' just because of his appearance, judging him to be a little suspicious and perhaps even dangerous. He finds himself trying to be conciliatory in difficult situations, like when his car breaks down and a state trooper stops to help and questions where he is from. Later, he is taken advantage of for similar reasons--is it best not to rock the boat?

But Akhtar also examines our materialistic society, the rise of Trumpism, and our crumbling image in the world. When did obtaining wealth replace all of the lofty moral ideals this country once stood for? Wait--this is not new though: Walt Whitman, 150 years ago, saw 'a country of endless energy, enterprise and breadth--both natural and human--but ensnared in a materialism from which it couldn't seem to escape. Back then, Whitman worried America's preoccupation with the business of making money would lead to the failure of its historic mission.' Will change come because it has to? 

This is an excellent, thought-provoking novel. If your eyes have recently been opened to the reality that not every American is treated justly and fairly, this book will add even more to that awakening knowledge and understanding. 

I received an arc from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Many thanks for the opportunity to read Akhtar's fine novel.
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This one was so relevant to what is happening in America today it's not even funny.  I almost didn't read Homeland Elegies: A Novel by Ayad Akhtar, but something made me crack it open one day.  Wow, from the very first page to the last one I was hooked.  I think this one not really in the fiction category; you could probably classify it as a memoir or biography.  Maybe if it had come out prior to 9/11 I'd probably see it differently.  Instead, Homeland Elegies: A Novel read like a waking nightmare and current reality.  Ayad Akhtar's writing is just so amazing and thought-provoking as he tries, as a Muslim, to make sense of America.
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"They call it a melting pot, but it's not. In chemistry, they have what they call a buffer solution - which keeps things together but always separated. That's what this country is. A buffer solution."

Technically I like this book more than the three stars I'm awarding it, but I don't like it enough to warrant it a fourth. It definitely has its merits. But there's a lot to be desired here as well.

Homeland Elegies is a blend of memoir and fictional tale where the narrator shares the same name as the author - Ayed Akhtar. Akhtar (both the narrator and the author) are American born Pulitzer Prize winning authors with Pakistani parents. Both experienced economic struggles in young to middle adulthood since (surprise!) being a writer is not the most lucrative way to make a living, and both came into ca$h monies later in life. Both have a successful cardiologist as a father. But other than those facts, it is incredibly difficult for the reader to discern fact from an elaboration of a truth from pure fabrication. Although in an interview, the author explains that this is the point. "I wanted to find a form that would express this confusion between fact and fiction which seems to increasingly become the texture of our reality or unreality," he says. I give props when authors try something new and different - and I'd never heard of nor read of a memoir/novel being written in this manner previously. But it didn't really work for me in Homeland Elegies. If you've ever read/watched The Martian or The Davinci Code, both of these books felt to me like the main character was written as a beefed up version of how the author saw themselves - part them, but also how they pictured a smarter/funnier/more handsome/more interesting version of themselves. And a lot of the more out there stories in Homeland Elegies felt exactly like that to me - like the author Akhtar wishes he had a period in his life where he had sex with throngs of women, became best friends with a billionaire hedge fund manager and was flown around the world in private jets, and made millions of dollars himself with ease, so he has these things happen to narrator Akhtar. But instead of just admitting that those sections are embellished or outright fiction, author Akhtar shrugs his shoulders and says "welp, maybe that happened and maybe it didn't" and it induces eye rolls from me.

Also, there are a lot of political rants and arguments between narrator Akhtar and other characters in the book. Don't get me wrong - these are well thought out and insightful rants and arguments. So if this is something you enjoy reading about, you'll dig it. But oh man, political rants and arguments are so not my thing.

I didn't get a sense of cohesion or linearity with Homeland Elegies at all. Author Akhtar would jump from a story about narrator Akhtar's father to an opinion on Trump to a childhood memory with little or no segue in between. Sometimes that's how memoirs are written, but since author Akhtar is toting this as a novel, it felt very mishmashed and jarring. When I got to this passage near the end of the book, it certainly had me raising an eyebrow:

"Every good story has the same shape. The beginning establishes a goal, the more tangible the better. In the middle we watch the fight towards that goal The end is what happens when it's been reached, or when reaching it's finally failed. What I always say when I teach is: the longer the middle, the better the story. The middle is when we still don't know the outcome. That's when we are the most about what's happening. The longer you can keep the audience engaged in the pursuit without actually resolving that pursuit - that's real mastery."

So... with Homeland Elegies, author Akhtar wrote a story with no shape, no beginning, no ending, and a whole lot of middle and thought that would result in real mastery? Not quite.
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This book is a must buy and must read. I will definitely be recommending to readers and book clubs. This is so much more than a father son story, more than an immigration story, more than a post 9/11 story.. This is a honest and raw look at contemporary America. This is a story for our times.  I would only recommend that you change your expectation as you read this because it's less like a novel and more like vignettes that showcase the life experience of this muslim american family.
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Stunning. A big, provocative cornucopia of a novel, full of important and striking material. American capitalism, racism, the complexity of second generation alienation, and the Muslim heritage. It’s a full plate and Akhtar does a remarkable job of marshaling his ingredients. Preachy? Opinionated? Yes, at times. But he’s earned it.
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What an amazing genre-bending autobiographical novel by the Pulitzer Prize winning Akhtar. An insightful, intellectual and passionate look at our current national crisis.
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This was much different than I expected it to be. As others have mentioned, it reads more like short essays/memoir vs. fiction.

I found the writing style to be very high-brow. I found myself reading an entire page, and realizing I had no idea what I read because the writing was so intellectual. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it's just not an approachable book for the regular reader.

The topics in this are obviously very important and the author is very intelligent, but the heavy writing style got in my way of actually understanding and enjoying the book.
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These days, I’m attuned to fiction that will take my mind off reality. Not necessarily easy or soothing, but novels that grab me with their drama (Against the Loveless World) or distract me with their lovely prose (Monogamy). It’s with some surprise then that I’m reviewing Homeland Elegies, a complex novel I’m still not sure I fully understand. Ostensibly, it’s about Sikander, a highly successful doctor from Pakistan who emigrates to America, and his son, Ayad, a playwright, who was born here. The novel focuses largely on their lives after 9/11 as Sikander’s fortunes begin to fall, Ayad finally finds success and the two men grapple with what homeland means to them. 

Sikander’s specialty is a rare form of cardiac disease and through this, in the early 1990s, he’s flown to NYC to treat a wealthy businessman. That man is Donald Trump and after several trips and being wined and dined, Sikander forms an enduringly positive impression of Trump. He also acquires the man’s taste for escorts, something that prevails unbeknownst to his wife or son. Sikander’s feelings toward Trump don’t waver even when he runs for office and his racist, misogynistic views are publicly recorded. It’s a source of bemusement and frustration for his son, who cannot comprehend how his father admires a man who rabidly hates Muslims.

His father’s career provides financial security for Ayad’s early years as a writer. It is a chafed spot in their relationship—the son who diminishes his father’s beliefs while taking his money. It isn’t until Ayad’s late 30s that he finds critical success with a play centered around life in America for Muslims post 9/11. Money follows when an investment with a wealthy Muslim hedge fund manager frees him from its cares and moves him into the echelon of people who can discuss it as an academic subject.  Suddenly, he goes from being the son who always needs a loan to the one helping others. 

This synopsis says as much about Homeland Elegies as summarizing the ocean as “having a lot of water”. Yes, but within that water is a world teeming with a multitude of life forms, both simple and incredibly complex. So it is with this novel. It is fiction. It has a plot, fascinating characters, and a story arc that moves well and resolves itself in a timely manner. It also encompasses global themes of terrorism, immigration, academia, war, and capitalism, breaking each into shards that refract light onto the multiplied surfaces of each character. This comes in the form of Ayad’s reminiscences and his interactions with the key people in his life. In the present day he remembers a family vacation to Pakistan in 2008 where he found the culture, with its anger, its distrust of the media and anyone with an opposing view, to be eerily like America now. He’s friends with a man who made his billions after the housing debt crisis by repackaging that debt in a way to help people. A family friend opens a CIA funded clinic on the Pakistan-Afghan border in the 1980s to help wounded mujahideen, only to be killed by the CIA in the 1990s. The shards re-assemble into forms unlike what they were before, only to scatter again as Akhtar flips the script once more.

That these snippets shape shift from the global to the deeply personal, from the vast to the intimate is an astonishing literary feat. But here’s where it gets really meta: The author of Homeland Elegies is Ayad Akhtar. The same name and biography as the novel’s protagonist. Both won the Pulitzer Prize for a play about 9/11 and have parents who emigrated from Pakistan. Both struggle against being defined by their work. Is Akhtar Ayad? Does it even matter? 

There is nothing familiar or safe in Homeland Elegies. Much as the Democrats were rudely awakened to their sleepy disregard of working-class America by the 2016 election so Akhtar disturbs the view of many of America’s cherished beliefs in itself. That he does it from within the safe circle of wealth and progressive politics makes its sting sharper. Not us! The educated, the liberals. We care! Numerous scenes take place at galas, in penthouse apartments, over cocktails at expensive restaurants. Muslims of all stripes debating amongst themselves and with their rich Christian and Jewish friends, trying to pin down where they land, who they are. 

I’ve already mentioned I’ve passed on reading I’ve deemed “too hard” in 2020. In some ways, I welcome being challenged, but in others, it makes me tired. I feel as if I’m already working hard to stay psychologically afloat so reading that pierces my protective bubble of beliefs, perceptions, and judgements, reading that makes me stop and think is not my first choice. And yet, Homeland Elegies was as uncomfortable, but ultimately invigorating as an ice bath. Ayad’s journey made my synapses fire. Akhtar’s prodigious vocabulary meant I had to look up words (which I love). I finished the novel and had so many thoughts my brain was burning. THIS is reading we all need. Not all the time, but right now.
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Literate, well written fictional memoir based on experiences from the author’s life.  Although it centers on living as an American Muslim in a post 9/11 world, it is far reaching in its astute observations of many aspects of society including politics and economics.  Profound, insightful, honest, poignant, relevant, thought provoking.
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This book felt more like a series of vignettes than a novel. I enjoyed the author’s play Disgraced, which covered some of the same issues (including the position of Muslims in this country), but more succinctly and with more drama. I found many of the author’s insights informative, and it’s always interesting to get another perspective on this country. 

There is no way for me to know how much of this book is autobiographical, but it certainly felt like he was working out some personal issues through book, including his relationship with his immigrant parents. I found his mother’s story particularly touching. I also liked the story of the fabulously wealthy hedge fund manager who perhaps had a secret agenda. And of course I cannot disagree with the author’s description of Trump who appeals to the “nasty, brutish and nihilistic” among us. 4.5 stars

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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Maddeningly glib and discursively self-indulgent, but with occasional flashes of brilliance. More of a collection of autobiographical essays about living as an Ivy-educated American-born-Pakistani ambivalent-Muslim Pulitzer-Prize-winning playwright named Ayad Akhtar, who seems too minimally self-aware to be writing an autofictional novel about living in Trump's hypercapitalist and racist America.

Reads like late Philip Roth's self-important State of America novels (like The Human Stain or Exit Ghost), with political diatribes and literary provocations interleaved with overt misogyny, priapic sex, high-end boozing, and literal masturbation. As with late-period Roth, it's all just one-note haranguing that sustains the narrative momentum, but Akhtar doesn't have Roth's sense of structure or skill at pacing. About 100 pages too long, since he (or his authorial mouthpiece) doesn't know when to stop. Would have definitely benefited from a rigorous edit that could contain its explosive logorrhea. 

Thanks to Netgalley and Little, Brown for sharing an ARC with me in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
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