Homeland Elegies Summary
Homeland Elegies is a 2020 novel by Ayad Akhtar that takes the form of a memoir, drawing on the author’s biography to reflect on his experiences as an American man of Pakistani origins.
- Ayad’s parents, Sikander and Fatima, moved from Pakistan to the United States. While Sikander embraces the promise of America, Fatima longs to return to Pakistan.
- Ayad, a playwright, recalls a number of personal experiences that have shaped his conflicted relationships to American culture and to his heritage.
- After Fatima dies, Sikander, whose life in America has unraveled, returns to Pakistan with Ayad’s help.
Last Updated on February 26, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 891
Ayad Akhtar is both the author and the narrator of Homeland Elegies, yet he openly acknowledges that the book is a novel and not an autobiography. Weaving fiction into the reality of life as a Muslim American, he creates a story that blurs the lines between fact and fantasy. He refuses to comment on where those lines are drawn, leaving it to the reader to surmise where he has taken creative liberties and how those choices nevertheless reflect truths about being a Muslim American. The novel is written much like a memoir, yet it does not follow a chronological timeline in its structure. Instead, Akhtar arranges the novel around people and the conflicts they face, regardless of time.
In the novel, Ayad’s parents immigrated to the United States after finishing medical school in Pakistan. His father, Sikander, came to the country with grand dreams of becoming an American in every sense of the word. He loved the country, the culture, and the possibilities it offered. Working hard, he built a successful medical business and then lost it. True to the American dream, he then reinvented himself and became a part of Donald Trump’s medical team, offering insights on a particular cardiac condition which he thought Trump might suffer from. Through this work, he grew to admire Trump both as a politician and an embodiment of the American dream itself. His adoration of Trump and his policies lasted for years until Sikander was finally forced to admit to his son that Trump’s election to the presidency had been a “mistake.”
Growing up in America, Ayad fell in love with literature and decided early on to become a writer. His parents periodically took him to Pakistan to visit relatives and to ensure that he felt connected to their heritage and homeland. Ayad observed the different allegiances his parents felt towards America and Pakistan. While his father fully embraced their life in America, his mother longed to return to Pakistan and felt a deep alliance to her Muslim heritage. After the attacks of September 11, it was his mother who commented to Ayad that the Americans deserved the destruction because of the way they had interfered in the politics of the Muslim world. She felt that Americans treated Muslims “like animals,” a sentiment that Sikander himself faces later in the novel. Once, when Sikander was simply trying to purchase a few items in a convenience store, another customer called Sikander a racist slur and expressed dismay at his presence.
Ayad finds a kindred spirit in Mary Maroni, a college professor of his who teaches him the importance of connecting with his own dreams as well as the written word. Akhtar constructs and maintains a relationship with her for decades, heeding her advice perhaps because she understands the challenges of living outside traditional American culture. Mary is a lesbian who is not afraid of difficult conversations and who wants her students to challenge their own thinking.
Throughout the novel, Ayad recalls events that reveal the discrepancy between the promises of the American dream and the reality of living as a Muslim in America, a gap that widened following the attacks of September 11. Once, when he attempted to donate blood, another donor yelled that no one needs his “Arab blood.” Later, his relationship with a Pakistani-American woman ended when she chose her long-standing but unfaithful boyfriend, who was white, over Ayad. When Ayad's father was on trial, the prosecuting lawyer used his Muslim background to negatively influence the jury. After Ayad was pulled over by police, he was ripped off by a repair shop owner, who both acknowledged his own connections to the local law enforcement and took issue with Ayad's supposed country of origin.
Through all of the conflict, one truth remains clear: that the core of American culture, the core of the nation’s political decisions, is wealth. Ayad realizes that his own position has been greatly advanced through one remarkable financial investment which was made possible through the tragedy of his mother’s death and the subsequent financial insights of his close friend, who had valuable information about an upcoming investment opportunity. Without both capital and opportunity, many Americans find themselves much like Ayad’s father, forever chasing the promise of the American dream but ultimately facing the defeat of poverty. Ayad encounters another truth through his friendship with Mike Jacobs, a Black man who, shockingly to Ayad, votes Republican to improve his own financial standing: that political parties in America ultimately serve the interests of the wealthy. Ayad comes to realize that in America, the financially strong own everything and everyone else, forcing their will upon those who are financially weak.
In the end, Ayad helps his father return to Pakistan, though he himself is banned from entering the country due to the way his works are perceived there. He continues to face the conflict of being an American citizen while being seen as other, and the final conflict in the book comes in the form of a man who asks why Ayad doesn’t simply leave. Ayad is emotional in his response as he tells the man that he has lived in America for his entire life, and though it may be a struggle for him sometimes, he wouldn’t want to live elsewhere. America is Ayad’s homeland.
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