American Dervish, by Ayad Akhtar

This debut novel features ten-year-old Hayat Shah, a first-generation Pakistani American, who is attempting to find his identity as a Muslim.

In 1980s Milwaukee, he sees many different versions of that identity. The Pakistani community there centers on two men—a corrupt imam and Ghaleb Chatha, the businessman who funds the imam’s mosque. Both men are outwardly devoted to their faith and associate very little with anyone outside it. But they use their public piety and personal interpretations of the Qur’an to justify anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, misogyny and other views that insulate their community.

Hayat’s father, disgusted with their hypocrisy, distances his family from Chatha’s sphere—and from the faith altogether. Hayat’s mother, largely derided or ignored by his father, maintains a nostalgic link to Islam for the simple reason that her life in America has disappointed her. Hayat feels separate from his classmates at school, who see his Muslim heritage as strange, but he is also kept from embodying that heritage by his parents, who neither embrace nor fully renounce it.