Poets & Writers

TRUTH

AYAD Akhtar knows the truth is never simple. “The more I know, the more I see, the more lives I come in contact with, the more I understand that there is no single way of looking at anything,” he says. And there is perhaps no truth more fractured and contradictory than the truth about what it means to be an American, which is precisely what makes Akhtar’s new novel, Homeland Elegies, forthcoming in September from Little, Brown, such a haunting accomplishment.

Although the book is billed as a novel, it blurs the line between fact and fiction, told in first-person by a narrator, also named Ayad Akhtar, who, like the author, is raised in an upper-middle-class Midwestern town by Pakistani immigrant parents. The narrator grows up believing, thanks in part to his father, who for a time in the 1990s was Donald Trump’s doctor, that the United States is a place of prosperity and equity, where anyone can succeed if they work hard enough. But as the narrator’s career as a playwright and author begins to take off, 9/11, the war in Iraq, and eventually the election of Trump compound to reveal a darker series of truths about his homeland. As Akhtar and his family become the target of violence, microaggressions, and police brutality, he comes to see that equity for some is white supremacy for others, that prosperity for a small group of people means poverty and death for the majority of the population. Most powerfully, he comes to realize how easy it is to ignore these truths until you become a target of them yourself.

Akhtar has purposely remained mum about just how and where the details of his life overlap with those of his fictional characters. For the reader this creates a potent tension that mirrors the uncertainty many of us are reckoning with on a daily basis, especially in this era of “fake news.” But one of the greatest triumphs of Homeland Elegies is how this uncertainty, rather than shutting you down, makes you want to know more, not just about the history of this country or the history of one’s ancestors, but about how your daily actions and decisions can serve humanity instead of feeding a

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