Book review: Homeland Elegies

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

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Homeland Elegies was certainly a thinker. Through a series of personal essays, the author Ayad Akhtar, author of Pulitzer Prize-winning play Disgraced, provides a striking meditation on what it is to be American and how we got to this place. 

Through his experiences with others, both in America and in Pakistan, he tries on different feelings and theories on how he should show up as an American. Should it be as the overly enthusiastic supporter of the American stereotype, as is his father for parts of the book? Should it be as the subtle subverter, working within the means of the American dream but using his money to manipulate to his own ends? Should it be as the pessimistic minority, embracing the system while utilizing its flaws to advance his agenda?

The book, which blends personal essay and fiction, exhibits this subtle tug of war, which, I think, is most represented between his mother, who longs to be back in Pakistan, and his father, who longs for the American dream, at least for most of the book. It seems at various points like he is trying these thoughts on and seeing how they feel.

Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar and A Promised Land by Barack Obama are two of the New York Times top 10 books of 2020.

Because of the color of his skin, his religion and the rise in American prejudices throughout most of the author’s life, he experiences much hatred throughout the United States, from New York to the heartland, from being told on 9/11 that no one wanted his Muslim blood to being called an “ape” at a convenience store, the author relates these moments where the worst America violates him. 

He also experiences criticism and ostracizing from other Pakistani and Muslim Americans for how he chooses to show up in his art as he mulls through HOW to be this person in this life he was born into. He is not embracing enough of the American way or he is not deferential enough to the homeland, so say this who critique him.

There are some interesting insights for this time, as I wonder “how did we get here,” specifically regarding the role the almighty dollar may have played into it. Some of the perspectives of different individuals the author puts forth resonate with me, some of them I dismissed, all of them I will continue to think about in coming days and weeks. 

Final word: 10/10 would highly recommend, especially if you are someone who has an open, studious mind and are pondering the same questions that I am. 

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