Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Review: Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz
Author: Ali Eteraz
Publisher: Harper Collins, Harper One, October 13, 2009
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir
Hardback 337 pages
Book Source: FSB Associates
Book Description from Harper Collins:
Ali Eteraz's Children of Dust is a spellbinding portrayal of a life that few Americans can imagine. From his schooling in a madrassa in Pakistan to his teenage years as a Muslim American in the Bible Belt, and back to Pakistan to find a pious Muslim wife, this lyrical, penetrating saga from a brilliant new literary voice captures the heart of our universal quest for identity.
Children of Dust begins in rural Islam at the lowest levels of Pakistani society in the turbulent eighties. This intimate portrayal of rustic village life is revealed through a young boy's eyes as he discovers magic, women, and friendship.
After immigrating with his family to the United States, Eteraz struggles to be a normal American teenager under the rules of a strict Muslim household.
In 1999, he returns to Pakistan to find the villages of his youth dominated by the ideology of the Taliban, filled with young men spouting militant rhetoric, and his extended family under threat. Eteraz becomes the target of a mysterious abduction plot when he is purported to be a CIA agent, and eventually has to escape under military escort.
Back in the United States, with his fundamentalist illusions now shattered, Eteraz tries to find a middle way within American Islam. At each stage of Eteraz's life, he takes on a different identity to signal his evolution. From being pledged to Islam in Mecca as an infant, through Salafi fundamentalism, to liberal reformer, Eteraz desperately struggles to come to terms with being a Pakistani and a Muslim.
Astonishingly honest, darkly comic, and beautifully told, Children of Dust is an extraordinary adventure that reveals the diversity of Islamic beliefs, the vastness of the Pakistani diaspora, and the very human search for home.
This is a memoir of Eteraz’s life growing up as a Muslim first in Pakistan and then later as an American in the U.S. As Eteraz grows and changes, so does his understanding and practice of Islam. All people, regardless of religion, go through changes in their beliefs. As we learn more about life and people, either within or outside of our faith, our perceptions change and our behavior right along side it.
At different stages in his life, Eteraz practiced Islam differently, and it was in response to his environment. However, one thing always remained constant: his pure innocent belief in God or Allah. That never wavered or changed. Eteraz may have questioned ancillary things, like behavior towards women or dressing differently, but it was all to be closer to God. Eteraz just wants to be the best Muslin he can be.
One part of the book that struck me was when Eteraz and his family visit Pakistan in the summer and they go back to where they grew up. Eteraz is treated differently and suspected of not being a good Muslim. It is a shocking experience for him, and it speaks to our perceptions as a young child and then as an adult. We see things differently as we age, and sometimes you can’t always go back to where you came from.
What I really liked about this book was learning about Islam. For Muslims their religion is so deeply intertwined with their daily life, whereas in the U.S., or at least where I grew up, it is separate. I went to Catholic school, had religion class in the mornings and that was pretty much about it for religion. Unless you got into trouble and had to stare at a holy picture or something, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.
For Muslims, Islam is their history and culture. It is everything to them, and there is no separating that. Islam is their identity. It was easy for me to see the contrast between Catholicism and Islam because I don’t identify myself by my religion; heritage definitely, but not religion. That’s probably a byproduct of being an American and the whole melting pot thing.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. I learned a lot about what it means to be a Muslim and have a new found understanding of theses people and their way of life. I highly commend Eteraz for writing this book. It took a lot of introspection and courage to examine yourself in this manner and then share it with the world. Hopefully people will read this memoir and come away with a better understanding of what it means to be a Muslim.
Here is a quote which I think helps sum up the book, plus it's one of my favorites:
"You live; you worship. That's what this life is for. Rewards are in the next life. Riches are in the next life." pg. 33
My Rating: 90/100
Thanks to Julie from FSB Associates for my review copy.