Go Back to Where You Came From

And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.

Buy this Book on

You must sign in to see if this title is available for request.
Pub Date 25 Jan 2022 | Archive Date 31 Dec 2021

Talking about this book? Use #GoBacktoWhereYouCameFrom #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


A rollercoaster ride of a memoir, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, by the journalist, playwright, and political activist Wajahat Ali.

"Go back to where you came from, you terrorist!" This is just one of the many warm, lovely, and helpful tips that Wajahat Ali and other children of immigrants receive on a daily basis. Go back where exactly? His hometown in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he can’t afford rent?

Awkward, left-handed, suffering from OCD, and wearing Husky pants, Ali grew up on the margins of the American mainstream, devoid of Brown superheroes, where people like him were portrayed as goofy sidekicks, shop owners with funny accents, sweaty terrorists, or aspiring sweaty terrorists. Driven by his desire to expand the American narrative to include protagonists who look like him, he became a writer, and in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, an accidental activist and ambassador of all things Muslim-y. He uses his pen with turmeric-stained fingernails to fill in missing narratives, challenge the powerful, and booby trap racist stereotypes. In his bold, hopeful and hilarious memoir, Ali offers indispensable lessons and strategies to help cultivate a more compassionate America.

About the Author: 

Wajahat Ali is a columnist at the Daily Beast and Senior Fellow at the Western States Center and Auburn Seminary. He has written for the New York Times, the Atlantic, and the Washington Post; appears frequently on CNN and MSNBC; and lectures around the world.

A rollercoaster ride of a memoir, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, by the journalist, playwright, and political activist Wajahat Ali.

"Go back to where you came from, you terrorist!" This is...

Advance Praise

"Wajahat Ali’s deeply personal and keenly perceptive memoir is a clear-eyed account of his American immigrant experience—an experience that is both unique and universal. We are all fortunate to be on the receiving end of not only his intellect, but his humanity and heart." - Katie Couric, Emmy Award-winning journalist

"This is the book I’ve been hoping Wajahat Ali would write for ten years—hilarious, stylistically fearless, deeply humane." - Dave Eggers, author of The Every

"Reveals the pain of loving a nation that doesn't always love you back." - Laila Lalami, author of Conditional Citizens

"Timely and engrossing, balancing sharp satire and deep empathy, Wajahat Ali’s brilliant, hilarious, and eye-opening book will make any reader want to come to his block party." - Sunny Hostin, author of I Am These Truths

"A hilarious and heartwarming treatise on what it truly means to be American in the twenty-first century. You’ll be laughing so hard you won’t even notice the inevitable Islamic takeover of America! Oops, I’ve said too much." - Reza Aslan, author of God: A Human History

"In prose at times hilarious and at other times deeply moving, Wajahat Ali chronicles a uniquely American experience. All will benefit from reading his story." - Representative Ilhan Omar

"Wajahat Ali’s deeply personal and keenly perceptive memoir is a clear-eyed account of his American immigrant experience—an experience that is both unique and universal. We are all fortunate to be on...

Available Editions

EDITION Hardcover
ISBN 9780393867978
PRICE $26.95 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (PDF)
Send To Kindle (PDF)
Download (PDF)

Average rating from 14 members

Featured Reviews

A top read of the year! Part memoir, part political commentary, Wajahat Ali's "Go Back to Where You Came From" is a stirring look at the American Dream, and the barriers around it, told with excellent humor and heart. On its own, the book is a gripping memoir where Ali faces multiple near-death experiences, works through more than a decade of legal battles while his parents are incarcerated, and navigates life as the child of an immigrant family who walks the tightrope of cultural and societal expectations. His story alone would make a great book, but wait... there's more! With sincere and comical stylings, he also expertly speaks on the political landscape of "What it means to be an American (or Amreekan, as he playfully writes)?" and "WHO gets viewed as American?" Following 9/11, Ali is thrown into the role of spokesperson and totem expert of Islam as the president of his college's Student Muslim Association. Hate mail from all over (thanks to his contact being listed on a school website) comes his way, while the school administration just wants to know if "they" (Muslim students) are planning any protesting. What happens instead is that the students are too busy providing safe walking services for Muslim female students and either cannot practice their prayers or do so in mosques who've been forced to hire armed guards because of increasing hate crime retaliations. How have politics in our country changed in a post-9/11 world? Ali recounts the hopes and devastation of the Muslim vote as George W. Bush was at one point the most Islamic friendly president who spoke with numerous Muslim leaders, and then launched the war on terror. With Obama came hope, but due to the constant skepticism over his name and possible closeted faith (which was easily denied), his administration often over-reacted to situations that placed him near Muslim people or faith. And then, there was a Muslim ban. For people of color in our country, there are very clear lines in the form of policy, opportunities, wealth, education, etc where we still have "us" vs "them" mentalities. Ali points these discrepancies out from the benign titles that introduce him as a "Muslim correspondent" even when he's not speaking on an inter-faith panel and we never introduce other anchors as "Christian correspondents" to the very real and devastating disparities of incarcerated populations which target people of color and often benefit white wealthy criminals who can pay their legal fees and bargain for lower sentencing. The book is packed with critical examinations of our country, and yet it's often funny. He invites the reader to see the foolishness as well as the harm when we uphold racist systems. And by adding in his own story and the difficulties his family has faced, it makes it harder for reluctant readers to wave him off. He speaks a very real truth, and I'm so glad he shared it. 10 stars if I could give them. I could not put it down. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

I really enjoyed this. Ali's journey is a tough one, and hard to look at, but he uses humor masterfully to make the bitter pill easier to swallow. This is therefore both heartbreaking and hilarious. Very well done. Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publisher for this review copy.

Was this review helpful?

This is a humorous, hard hitting, and unvarnished account by Wajahat Ali of what it’s like to be born, raised, and live in America as a son of immigrants, who are South Asian and Muslim. I very much enjoyed his humor and writing - funny, self deprecating at times, and no holds barred as he describes his experiences with his family, at school, within his local community, and the community at large. His humor was laugh out loud and I found myself reading pieces out to my sister - we could definitely relate to some of his accounts, e.g. paraphrasing here - Asian parents have two levels of operations: blunt and very blunt. We hooted with laughter - it was so on point! I like that he didn’t shy away from sharing parts about his parents’ challenges - it was sad that after all the hardships they overcame as immigrants, were successful in getting a great education, and became entrepreneurs, that they ended up making questionable choices, and ended up in prison. Hats off to the author for his resilience and drive in overcoming so many life challenges, including that of his young child’s major health issue, to power through, hold his own, and be successful in his own right. His accidental activism and his voice on the national front is made even more effective through the deployment of humor to inform, get people to stop and think, and get his points across. Overall this was a great read and I hope he writes another book in the near future. Many thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: