Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Native Believer

Native Believer is the story of M., a second-generation Muslim American who knows almost nothing about the faith.  M., who was raised in the South, is married to Marie-Ann, a white Southerner, and the two have made a rather comfortable life for themselves.  It is only when M. throws a party for his co-workers and invites their new boss that things start to go bad for him – in a hurry.

The rather odd Germanic man seems to be enjoying M.’s company but when he spots a tiny Koran on the top bookshelf in M.’s apartment, the new boss makes an offhand comment about finding the Koran placed “above” all the other books on the shelves, especially those of some of the world’s most respected philosophers.  The very next day, M. is called into the man’s office and fired.

M. wants nothing more from life than to be an American, a man with roots and children he intends to raise as modern Americans, not as Muslims.  But after the murders of 9-11, it is not that simple.  M. carries a Muslim name, and in today’s America, he is ethnically challenged enough to be seen as a suspicious person almost everywhere he goes.  Now his life is falling apart.

His wife resents that he cannot find work, and the tension between the two aggravates the medical condition that causes her to gain huge amounts of weight in a matter of weeks.  Their marriage is beginning to fall apart, and there is little that either of them seems to care to do about it. 

M. is at a crossroads.  As he wanders Philadelphia’s streets on foot, he runs into a group of devout Muslims who mistrust his lack of piety and want to convert him; he befriends a Muslim pornographer who says he is trying to get Americans to see Muslim men as anything other than terrorists; and Marie-Ann’s job brings him into contact with other Muslims who want him to help spread the good word about life in America to suspicious Muslims all around the world.  In the meantime, M. feels like his world is being ripped apart.

Native Believer makes for a bit tedious reading at times, but it is filled with characters I wanted to know more about.  M.’s struggle for a self-identity seems very real in today’s world, and I very much wanted to see how Eteraz would resolve his main character’s dilemma.  Let’s just say that the book’s final two pages are nothing like I expected it would all end – so do not, under any circumstance, read the end of Native Believer first.  Please.

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