Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.
Mina is Hayat’s mother’s oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah’s doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat’s skeptical father can’t deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family’s Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina’s side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher.
When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true. Just as Mina finds happiness, Hayat is compelled to act — with devastating consequences for all those he loves most.
-Synopsis of the novel (Amazon)
As some of you know, I’m a V slow reader, BUT I managed to finish 75% of this novel (according to my Kindle)! I’ve been following this author for a few yrs now; in 2017, journo Bill Moyers said of Akthar: “We finally have a voice for our times.” One of my friends read American Dervish a few years ago; she didn’t recall ALL the details, BUT said that she’d never read something like this before. She passed it onto a friend, then that friend gave it to another. A newcomer to the book club said she also liked the book- subject matter and writing style. The moderator who read it 2 yrs ago said that this book goes into the issues faced by ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis), NOT only those particular to Muslims.
WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for the novel.
Do you think that one has to reject one identity in order to embrace another? What choice does Hayat make? What will the result be?
I think that children and adolescents (such as Hayat Shah, the protagnist/narrator) can often feel this way; my book club agreed w/ this comment. For Hayat, he identified as a Muslim, at least as a preteen boy. His goal was to be a hafiz (someone who knows the Quran by heart), though his father was dead set against this plan. Akthar said in several interviews that he was V interested in Islam as a child; he convinced his (secular) parents to take him to the local mosque and allow him to study the Quran.
Hayat’s mother and father have a difficult relationship. In fact, all of the relationships between men and women in the book are complex, often troubled. What might the author be saying about such relationships within this culture?
Back in Pakistan, Mina’s first marriage turned sour b/c of her abusive mother-in-law. Her husband didn’t do anything to stop this, so Mina made the drastic decision to go to the US (w/ her son Imran). She couldn’t go back to her parents; they had urged her to stay w/ her husband’s family (she was rejected in her time of need).
The newcomer to our group said that there were messed up power dynamics between Hayat’s parents; his mother (Muneer) didn’t have a job, so his father (Naveed) has all the money (thus the decision-making power). The ONLY relationship that was positive was between Hayat’s mom’s best friend, Mina, and his father’s friend/colleague, Nathan. They have an old-fashioned courtship, under the watchful eye of Muneer for about a year. This is a kind of fix-up, though based on mutual respect and admiration. Mina and Nathan talk re: books and ideas, share meals, and grow to love each other. When Hayat asks why they can’t be alone, his mother explains that Mina is a Pakistani woman, so “dating” is out of the question.
Hayat’s mother has grown angry and bitter b/c her husband drinks (secretly, he thinks) and cheats on her w/ white women. The women are possibly nurses at the hospital where Dr. Shah conducts research. Hayat’s mother, Muneer, refers to the other women as “mistresses” and “prostitutes.” Her view of white women is thus very negative, though she has a positive view of the Jewish people (incl. Nathan). In one scene, Muneer says that she’s raising Hayat “like a little Jew” (so that he’ll grow up to love and respect women).
Do you think it’s valid and/or authentic for male authors to write about feminist issues? What was your feeling about the portrayal of women in American Dervish?
Yes, someone can be “a male feminist,” my friend said quickly. Akthar said that he was inspired by the women in his life, incl. his own mother (a medical doc), his aunts, and various Pakistani immigrant women from the community of Milwaukee, WI (where he grew up).
What are the different visions of Islam portrayed in the book?
Naveed (a man of science) has a contempt (perhaps even hatred) of Islam; this is echoed in Disgraced, where Amir even hides his origins. Naveed makes fun of Nathan when the younger man shows an interest in the religion. After Mina and Nathan’s break-up, he declares to his son that he “never wants to see you w/ that book [the Quran] ever again.” On the flip side, Mina wants to know more re: Islam; she studies and also teaches Hayat for a time. She is BOTH religious and spiritual, explaining to Hayat that it’s the “intention” of an action that counts.
What did you think of the relationship between Islam and Judaism in the novel?
This is a tough one (IMO), b/c in this novel, these religions are put at odds w/ each other. Mina rejects Nathan (a cultural Jew) b/c he doesn’t want to convert to Islam. After all, he had a shocking/scary experience the one time he attended the masjid. Naveed warned him, BUT Nathan’s curiosity and love for Mina compelled him to give this religion a chance. Muneer, who had such high hopes for the pair, is disappointed when they don’t marry. She saw Nathan as a decent man and great choice for Mina, even though he was white and Jewish. I feel that Muneer wanted her friend to have a better life than herself.
Last WED night, Hari Kondabolu was in DC (Baird Auditorium at The Smithsonian Natural History Museum) to discuss his first documentary film w/ NPR reporter Elizabeth Blair and a diverse audience (which included MANY South Asian immigrants and 1st gen adults in their 20s-40s). This was a free event; I signed up 2 weeks ahead of time (and got a kick out of seeing /chatting w/ MANY familiar faces attending). This film is NOT only funny, it’s smart and thought-provoking (delving into issue of South Asian representation in the media). You can watch this film on truTV tonight (SUN, 11/19).
So, what’s the big deal re: Apu here? Well, he’s a stereotype of an immigrant Indian man who runs a convenience store, and voiced by a white actor (Hank Azaria, who refused to appear in the film). The Simpsons is a nearly 30 y.o show on the FOX network which is watched/loved by millions. As Maryland-raised actor/musician Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect; The Mindy Project) summed it up: “The problem is- we didn’t have any other type of representation.” Hari interviewed MANY people incl: his parents, Aziz Ansari (Master of None), Kal Penn (Designated Survivor), Hasan Minhaj (Homecoming King), Aasif Mandvi (best known from The Daily Show), Maulik Pancholy (Star Trek: Discovery), Aparna Nancherla (stand-up comic/actor/writer from Virginia), Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards), Noureen DeWulf (Anger Management), Dr. Vivek Murthy (former Surgeon General under Pres. Obama), W. Kamau Bell (Hari’s friend/collaborator on various projects), Dana Gould (a producer of The Simpsons) and Hollywood trail-brazer Whoopi Goldberg (who speaks on America’s minstrel era, featuring “blackface”).
The audience was laughing all through the film. They were pleasantly surprised to see Whoopi and Dr. Murthy (a trailblazer in his own right). I esp. enjoyed the Q&A afterwards; Hari mentioned his idea for a future doc- focusing on Bengali filmmaker Satyjit Ray.
Whether through fine art photography, photojournalism, or the work of emerging artists, FotoDC provides a dynamic, evocative, engaging experience for photographers, cultural institutions, galleries, curators, schools, area residents, and tens of thousands of viewers.
I MAY have heard of this event before, BUT have never gone! You can also volunteer during this event; I sent in an application (via Google doc).
Authors will talk to fans and sign books at this literary event (now in its 40th yr). Tickets are $5 for NPC and Politics & Prose members; $10 for the public. Tickets will also be sold online and at the door.
WED, NOV 15 (7PM), Smithsonian Natl Museum of Natural History (Baird Auditorium)
The Problem with Apu (w/ Hari Kondabolu)
In the new documentary, Kondabolu confronts his long-standing nemesis Apu Nahasapeemapetilon—better known as the Indian convenience store owner on The Simpsons.
Creator and star Kondabolu discusses how this controversial caricature came about, burrowed its way into the hearts and minds of Americans, and continues to exist—intact—nearly three decades later. The film features interviews with Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Whoopi, W. Kamau Bell, Aasif Mandvi, Hasan Minhaj, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Aparna Nancherla, as well as Simpsons writer Dana Gould and others. -Synopsis from Smithsonian web site
This is FREE y’all, so you just need to RSVP (after setting up a free Smithsonian account)! After the screening, Hari will be having a discussion w/ Elizabeth Blair (NPR). If you know me, you know I’m a BIG fan of his- YAY!
FYI: This doc will also be shown on SUN, NOV 19th on truTV.
Big in Bollywood (w/ intro & Q&A w/ actor Omi Vaidya)
California-born, NYU-educated Omi Vaidya had been struggling to make it in Hollywood as an Indian-American actor when he was suddenly offered a role in Mumbai. The film was 3 IDIOTS, and when it turned out to be an overwhelming critical and box office success, Omi — who hardly spoke any Hindi — woke up to overnight stardom in India. His unlikely story is told in this creative documentary, made by Vaidya’s college friends: just like 3 IDIOTS, this is a film about camaraderie and success, but told from behind the scenes. -Synopsis from AFI web site
You gotta LOVE living in/near downtown Silver Spring (DTSS), esp. when you hear about events like this! I’m inviting ALL my local gal pals to come out; hopefully, some of them can make it. I also think this will make a V interesting (future) blog post.
FYI: Vaidya is one of the ensemble cast of Brown Nation (Netflix).
WED, NOV 29 (7:30PM) & SAT, DEC 2 (2PM): Round House Theatre (Bethesda)
The Book of Will (Pay-What-You-Can)
What if Shakespeare’s works had been lost forever? After the death of their friend and mentor, two actors are determined to compile the First Folio and preserve the words that shaped their lives. They’ll just have to borrow, beg, and band together to get it done.
I used to work a block away from this theater, so I usually noticed what was going on (thanks to posters hanging outside and convos of some Bethesda residents). My parents BOTH liked Miss Bennett last holiday season, which was also written by Lauren Gunderson. PWYC events are great, as long as you plan ahead (b/c you need to wait in line) and bring some cash ($15 is suggested donation, but you can give whatever amount fits your budget). Don’t be embarrassed if you’re (temporarily) broke! I usually take along a friend or my parents (if it’s a weekend).
SAT, DEC 9 & SUN, DEC 10: Walter E. White Convention Center
MetroCooking DC 2017
Shop. Sip. Sample! Spend the day experiencing the many culinary highlights of MetroCooking DC. Restock your pantry and shop for holiday gifts at our exhibitor marketplace, featuring select vendors selling and sampling specialty foods, confections, utensils, appliances, and many other unique kitchen wares. Enjoy watching your favorite celebrity chef whip up delicious dishes live on the James Beard Foundation Cooking Stage. Learn useful tips, tricks, and trends geared toward cooking, home entertaining and healthy living at the Taste Talks Workshops. Plus, give the gift of cooking this season and pick up an autographed cookbook in our bookstore. Grab your friends for a fun, food filled day out!
I saw an ad for this event (NEVER been before) on the metro this evening… and got V excited. Sure, I LOVE movies, the theater, BUT my love of food is above ALL that! This year, celeb chefs- Guy Fieri and Jose Andres (whose restaurants are FAB)- will be appearing. General Admission for either day (10AM-5PM) is $21.50; there is also a Groupon deal ($14) that you can buy.
NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the latest season of the streaming comedy series.
Back in my NYC days, I used to hang out often w/ Bangladeshi immigrants (mainly grad students) and Bangladeshi-Americans (singles and couples aged 20 to 40). One young woman my age (raised in a Queens middle-class family) told me that her younger sister was attending college in Japan. Now, this is quite unusual for a female from an immigrant/Muslim/South Asian background. She went to Japan at age 18; she was VERY familiar w/ Japanese culture and nealry fluent in the language, thanks mainly to her best friend/neighbor.
As a comedian, I can talk about anything, as long as I make it funny. So it’s pretty cool if I can get people thinking about immigration or feminism or the food industry at my stand- up shows. -Aziz Ansari
In the second season of Master of None, you’ll find influences from classic Italian cinema, which Aziz Ansari (now 32 y.o.) greatly admires. Some disappointed viewers asked: “Why doesn’t he show India?” or “Why doesn’t he discuss his Indian-ness more?” or something to that regard. The actor/writer/producer is of South Indian/Muslim heritage, BUT was raised in Columbia, South Carolina. I hate to break it to you detractors, BUT one individual can’t show you ALL the sides of being South Asian, Muslim, and/or millennial in the US. (FYI: I know SOME who prefer the term “brown,” BUT I’m not a big fan of that word.) I’m VERY glad (proud even) that Ansari has achieved such a high profile at such a young age; it’s not like he had (conventional) good looks, height, or connections to get him where he is now. Like MANY other desis, he trained (NYU; The Upright Citizens’ Brigade) for several years and worked hard for his success.
 Master of None does not seize the easy way out which lies ahead when it comes to comic relief, cliché plot twists or predictable character development. No, it truly touched me with its ability to pay intense attention to detail.
 The second season is one of the most creative pieces I have seen for a long time. The smooth conversational style and the imaginative expressions relating to daily lives makes it easy to watch.
 I love shows with this kind of humor… It doesn’t try too hard to be funny, it just is. The characters are like my own funny, silly friends! It’s also so refreshing to see a show with a main character being a POC!
 Full disclosure- I’m not only brown, but Tamil, just like Aziz/ Dev, and actually was born in Chennai, so I may be a TAD biased…
…I have never written an online review- ever- but I felt I had to because I have never seen anything like this. Master of None just unassumingly starts like any other modern comedy (with a nice bang!) , but before you know it you are smiling, laughing, and all warm and fuzzy, all the while watching the characters in the show discuss and experience seemingly serious issues like racism, sexism, and modern social life. I think the beautiful thing about this show is that it doesn’t hit you over the head with messages or even try that hard. It’s just funny. The characters are just funny. It’s just natural and real.
-Various IMDB comments (re: S2)
Food is central to this season; the story picks up w/ Dev (Ansari) in small-town Italy making pasta. In Modena, Dev trains with a family, incl. Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), w/ whom he has great chemistry, BUT Dev is single and Francesca has a boyfriend, Pino. In E1, Dev meets a cute British woman traveling alone on his birthday, BUT loses his phone to a thief, so is unable to contact her.
Dev’s BFF shows up in E2; Arnold (Eric Wareheim) is going to the wedding of an ex-girlfriend in the lovely countryside. The buddies chat re: dating (incl. a new app Arnold is enthralled w/), eat delicious food, and even get stuck in a VERY narrow alley w/ their rental car. Arnold convinces Dev to go to the wedding, gets angry and emotional, BUT it all works out in the end.
Dev returns home to NYC and we get reintroduced to his (hilarious) father, Ramesh (Shoukath Ansari- Aziz’s father). In the much-discussed E3, his dad and mom (Nisha Ansari- Aziz’s mother) tell Dev that he needs to pretend to be a pious Muslim while an uncle and aunt are visiting. Dev’s love of food clashes w/ the religion he eschews. Dev introduces his younger cousin (played by Ansari’s college-aged cousin, Haris) to pork and they end up going to a famous BBQ festival. What I esp. liked about this ep was that the religious elders were NOT one-dimensional. Sure, they planned to go to Mecca, BUT they were also big basketball fans. Dev (finally) read the Koran that his mom has given him when he went away from home! This ep was co-written by Ansari’s younger brother, Aniz.
…“Religion” took me away from the Islam I see on TV and back to the Islam I’ve lived my whole life. The episode opens on a mother warning her son to abstain from finishing the bacon he’s holding: “Bacon is pork. We are Muslim. We are not allowed to eat pork,” she warns, adding, “That is our religion.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this exact same phrase growing up. Pop-Tarts, Jell-O, gummy bears, marshmallows, almost anything at a Korean or Italian restaurant…
-Aymann Ismail (Slate)
 Aziz presents us an episode so unique and incredible, yet barely involves him and his co-stars. It explores in a fantastic and diverse way the city of NYC through perspectives that we don’t take the time to appreciate and understand. The creative use of silence during the deaf portion of the episode was absolutely incredible and has such a powerful meaning.
 This was an especially excellent episode, I really loved the way it showed the views of different characters, really made you empathize with them. I really loved the minimalist approach, where you guys let the situations speak for themselves and did not overdo it at all. Achieved levels of empathy I have not seen in many other TV shows/movies.
-IMDB comments (re: S2, E6)
E6 is titled (like the 2008 film)- New York, I Love You. The film Death Castle is based on a rejected script written by Nicolas Cage, who also played the imaginary lead role. This is Ansari’s love letter to working-class immigrants and POCs (incl. a young deaf woman). If you loved this ep, check out the HBO film Everyday People.
E8 is probably the crowning jewel of this season; it features a Hollywood titan (Angela Bassett) and a prolific comic/character actress (Kym Whitley). Much of Denise’s coming out story came from actress Lena Waithe’s real life; she co-wrote this ep w/ Ansari. Do the Right Thing (1989) is the Spike Lee movie that Dev, Denise, and Nikki are watching during Thanksgiving 2016. It features the scene where police kill Radio Raheem, paralleling their dinner conversation about Sandra Bland and Sureshbhai Patel.
…even though Dev is a adult in his late 20s, this feels more or less like a high school girl next door crush. She is sweet, charming, beautiful and you guys have awesome chemistry together and you enjoy each others company, BUT… she is NOT available. -A viewer’s thoughts on Dev’s relationship w/ Francesca (the main love interest in S2)
The ladies Dev dates (thanks to a Tinder-like app) in E4 (First Date) are ALL different/interesting/unique! They include gorgeous Condola Rashad (daughter of Ahmad and Phylicia), quirky ramen blogger Stephanie (VA-raised comic Aparna Nancherla), and adorable/straight-laced lawyer, Priya (Tiya Sircar). These are ALL women of color who are coming up in Hollywood- VERY cool to see. Check out this show for yourself ASAP!