Homeland Elegies is the story of the American-born son of Pakistani immigrants whose faith in America is challenged by Donald Trump and the xenophobia he faces. His father was once Trump’s doctor and the gloss of knowing him long ago lets him ignore the anti-Muslim bigotry, assuming he means other Muslims, not ones like him. His mother has never been quite so trusting of America and after her death, before the book begins, he learns more about her dissatisfaction.
The narrator shares a name, personal history, and public career with the author. This makes it difficult to separate the fact from fiction. The prologue or “Overture” is as excellent a precis of where we are and how we got here as you will find. I loved and recognized it as speaking to me, but I imagine any conservative would close the book at the end of it and never pick it up again.
The story ranges far and wide in time to the times when the US helped the mujahadeen in Afghanistan to the time they viewed them as enemies. This narrative is captured in the story of his parents’ best friend who opens a clinic back home, one that the US forces use as base and then bomb as a terrorist cell. The entire arc of friendship and enmity in one person’s life.
This is a story of family and conflict, of father and son not understanding each other and finding their way toward mutual peace and respect. It is beautifully done and gives insight to the meaning of family and of difference.
The language in this book is extraordinary. I reached for a dictionary a few times, not because I could not understand these new words in context. I could, but sometimes a new word has a precision that the easier word might not have. He is that kind of author, he does use unfamiliar words, but not to show off, but in order to be precise. Besides, thanks to him I learned tohubohu, which means that which is empty and formless, chaos, utter confusion. Wow, one word for the Trump presidency.
Homeland Elegies is extraordinary. I loved it, even though at times I rolled my eyes, recognizing the common social media arguments. For example, he has a conversation with a Trump-supporting Black man who gives the traditional “what have Democrats delivered” though, in the end, the reality is he likes the lower taxes and doesn’t believe any party can do anything about racism. I cannot imagine a xenophobe or conservative reading this book at all. It is too confrontational for them. It is not going to promote understanding and rapprochement.
But why do we ask immigrants to do that? Why can’t they be angry and express that anger? He is asked why he stays and says it’s because it is home, but why is he asked? He was born here. So was I and I hate how our society is structured. Nobody is going to ask me why I don’t go back to Sweden though my family immigrated only one generation earlier than his. This is a book that asks us important questions. Sadly, we have far too few good answers.
Homeland Elegies will be released on September 15th. I received an ARC from the publisher through Shelf Awareness