Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Review: Children Of Dust by Ali Eteraz


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

My thoughts:
I was interested in reading this book because since Nine-Eleven, I have attempted to gain some understanding into the Muslim beliefs and culture.
This book is a memoir of one man's reflection of his life growing up in the Islam faith. It begins with his humble childhood in Pakistan, and extends through his immigration to the US, ending up as a teenager in Alabama, then back to Pakistan.

The religious zeal with which he was brought up was actually not unlike a couple of people that I knew back in grammar school.
I knew a couple of girls in my class who weren't allowed to cut their hair or wear pants. There was no television in their household, no dancing or rock'n'roll, and wearing make-up was of course, out of the question.
Not surprisingly, it was these same girls who rebelled the loudest when we were all thrust into high school.
As they began to question their parents beliefs, and search for their own identities, out came the scissors and the eyeshadow.I recall one of them coming to school with huge welts on her calves from the whipping she'd received from her mother after she had defiantly taken a razor and shaved her legs for gym class.

Back then it wasn't considered child abuse for a parent to do that.

The Author's detailed descriptions of his youthful upbringing left me amazed at the all encompassing fervor of the Islam faith.
So many details and points to remember and live by. And the punishments seemed barbaric and harsh. At least to me.
I also couldn't help but wonder at the almost superstitious beliefs that the adults held on to and instilled in their young.
When his baby brother died, the women of the household actually blamed it on a barren sister-in law, as if she'd cast some sort of spell or curse in this case.
After reading this memoir I can't help but be grateful that over-zealous, religious baggage was the one thing that I didn't have to drag with me into adulthood.
Why should Life be such a struggle?
Thank you Mama.

About the Author from
Ali Eteraz, author of Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan, was born in Pakistan and has lived in the Middle East, the Caribbean, and the United States. A graduate of Emory University and Temple Law School, he was selected for the Outstanding Scholar's Program at the United States Department of Justice and later worked in corporate litigation in Manhattan. He is a regular contributor to True/Slant; has published articles about Islam and Pakistani politics in Dissent, Foreign Policy, AlterNet, and altMuslim; and is a regular contributor to The Guardian UK and Dawn, Pakistan's oldest English-language daily. His blog in the Islamosphere received nearly two million views as well as a Brass Crescent award for originality. Eteraz has spoken publicly about the situation inside Pakistan, Islamic reform, and Muslim immigration. He currently divides his time between Princeton, New jersey, and the Middle East, and is working on a novel.

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: HarperOne; 1st edition (October 13, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061567086
ISBN-13: 978-0061567087

I received my review copy of this book courtesy of FSB

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