I like character-driven books, and I like books that explore culture clashes, so this was a win-win. Hyat Shah, a teen in the pre-9-11 world of American Islam, is discovering himself through a combination of religion and lust that feels pretty authentic.
Told through his eyes is the story of his mother’s best friend Mina, who falls in love with a Jewish man. Hyat is directly involved with how this does (or doesn’t) go and all through the book you get no sense of agenda, just skilled descriptions of real people trying to live their lives one non-surefooted step at a time.
Hyat himself is a fascinating character, a Muslim Holden Caulfield trying to step with care through the world, but usually putting his foot right into the middle of the muck. Perhaps deliberately, sometimes. His mother and father don’t much like each other. Hyat’s got the hots for his mother’s best friend but can’t admit it. He also thinks her son is a spoiled brat but as a teenager has to share everything with this six-year-old.
It’s a typical American family, these Shahs.
The ultimate (not really a spoiler here) inevitable break-up of Mina and Nathan isn’t really the point or climax of the book; it’s the building action of these wondrously drawn characters, people who are just people, that makes 375 pages fly by in minutes. You can’t put this down, even if it is a little voyeuristic – akin to watching people you like board the Titanic.
Lose yourself in some excellent writing that asks many more questions of its reader than it answers. Pick up AMERICAN DERVISH at your local bookshop or library.