Sunday, February 07, 2016

"American Dervish" by Ayad Akhtar - A Wonderful Companion Piece To The Author's Play "Disgraced"

I found this debut novel by Ayad Akhtar to be a wonderful companion piece to the author's play "Disgraced."

White Rhino Report Review of "Disgraced"

In both works, Akhtar wrestles autobiographically with his evolving views of the Muslim religion and of the Pakistani culture into which he was born. The title, "American Dervish," needs some explication.  For most of us, the only kind of dervish with which we are familiar are the legendary "whirling dervishes." But there are also dervishes who chant, and those who renounce all earthly pleasures -  ascetics who seek to abnegate any sense of selfhood, and who aspire to make themselves indistinguishable from the dust in the ground.  This spiritual stance and world view are the polar opposites of the American cults of personality and individualism.  In this novel, two characters demonstrate aspects of dervish behavior: the protagonist, Hayat, and his enchanting young aunt, Mina. Does Mina allow herself to be ground into dust, or is she fulfilling her destiny or her choices in life?  Is her embrace of Tammy Wynette's "Stand By Your Man" mentality a free choice or has she been conditioned to accept whatever the men in her life dish out?  How does Hayat deal with the lingering guilt from acts of betrayal that he committed in the heat of adolescent hyper faith and fundamentalistic judgmentalism?

It is clear from this novel, from "Disgraced," and from interviews that the author has granted, that he struggles with coming to grips with aspects of traditional fundamentalist Muslim doctrine that he sees as atavistic, misogynistic and paternalistic.  His intellectual journey reminds me of that of Roger L. Martin of the University of Toronto, in his seminal work "Opposable Mind."  

White Rhino Report Review of "Opposable "Mind"

In "Opposable Mind" the author rejects false dichotomies, and posits that the best leaders and the best thinkers do not settle for imperfect Choice A vs. imperfect Choice B, but dig deeper to discover an integrative less imperfect Choice C or beyond.  In this sense, Hayat's journey, and that of Mr. Akhtar, represent a form of Hegelian dialectic, moving from the thesis of fundamentalism to the antithesis of atheism to the synthesis of some form of reasoned spirituality.  During the journeys that Hayat and Mina take, the author treats issues of anti-semitism, the paternalistic roots of the three Abrahamic faiths, the role of women in Islam and in America, the many routes one may choose on the way to self-discovery, the sacrifices one may choose to make to protect those we love.

It is the default setting of this provocative author not to offer facile answers, but to pose a series of "more beautiful questions" that cause the reader to pause, to consider, to ruminate, and to begin to see things in a new light.

I am off to order another one of Mr. Akhtar's thrilling works of art.



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