A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
This is one of the most enjoyable and yet profound contemporary novels I have read in a long time. I had to keep reminding myself that it was indeed a novel, so interwoven is the plot with events we’ve all lived through in the last twenty years. The protagonist’s parents, both physicians, move from Pakistan to Staten Island in the early 1960s. When he is still young, the family relocates in Wisconsin. Throughout, readers get a feel for what it is like to live in America if you are not white-skinned, if you speak with an accent, or in any way attempt to retain religious or cultural customs from your former country. Not pleasant, to say the least.
At one point the car of the protagonist (by now a renowned playwright) breaks down in Scranton, PA. He is directed by a kindly highway patrolman (ah, good) to a mechanic who turns out to be related to the patrolman (uh oh). He is quoted a particular price for one problem, but when he picks up his car, he ascertains there is a second problem he’s not been informed about and is charged almost three times the original quote. He must phone his bank and make arrangements to raise his credit card level (and interest rate) to cover the cost.
The white-skinned reader must take note. This part is NOT fiction; this sort of explicit bias happens every day to dark-skinned, “other” people in America. People who work hard, people who pay their taxes, people who try hard to color inside the lines but somehow come up short in the eyes of so-called natives (whose ancestors were immigrants). The novel is really about how this man and his father handle their American lives differently: one an elegy for Pakistan and one for the USA. It is worth every minute of the reader’s time to live vicariously through these brave souls who come to American to build a better life. Theirs are true profiles in courage.
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