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Paperback review: American Dervish, By Ayad Akhtar


Hayat is a 12-year-old Pakistani American growing up in Midwest America: his is the typical suburban upbringing of barbecues and ball games. When his mother's beautiful friend Mina arrives, having fled an unhappy marriage in Pakistan, Hayat is beguiled. But Mina falls in love with Nathan, his father's Jewish colleague, and Hayat's bitterness – fuelled by the anti-Semitic sentiments of those in his community – leads him to an act that will rupture the relationship and indelibly mark his own life.

Ayad Akhtar's first novel is deftly plotted, with a frame narrative that shows how Hayat's sense of shame pursues him into adulthood. There are shades of Ian McEwan's Atonement, but Akhtar's writing has a crisp, imagistic quality all its own: jealousy, says Hayat, is "something dark and obscure ... like black dye suffusing my veins".