peteg's blog - noise - books - 2022 03 15 AyadAkhtar HomelandElegies

Ayad Akhtar: Homeland Elegies. (2020)

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Kindle. Prompted by a glowing review by Dwight Garner.

In earlier times this may've been derided as autofiction or just perhaps on the edge of Tom Wolfe et al's New Journalism, whereas now it's billed as a fictionalised memoir. The view from the native-born son of educated Pakistanis who migrated to the USA is broad and shallow, treating topics done to death by others recently; while Garner (and Akhtar) point back to Scott F. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, I kept thinking of Mohsin Hamid's work from about a decade ago (The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to get filthy rich in rising Asia) and Pankaj Mishra's capacious The Age of Anger. Performative mimesis, in short, and nowhere as punchy, transgressive or funny as Paul Beatty.

Topically we get Trump, a dash of Obama and bin Laden, racism in Pennsylvania, daddy issues (see, for instance, Lewis-Kraus), that economics (really financialisation) now dominates all other concerns and that this was observed by Emerson and Thoreau a long time ago, the limitations of a litigious society, black politics and how the white man's political machine is not going to solve anyone else's problems. A billionaire executes a slow-burning revenge fantasy, sending some racist municipalities broke with weaponized finance of mass and indiscriminate destruction. There's the odd self-contradiction, such as an affluent (self-described) black man thinking that spraying his money around ("maybe if we play our own game by their rules...") will make a difference. That's the general modus operandi I guess: the USA has snookered itself.

Akhtar is not a scientist; he operates entirely in the confirmation mode, constantly looking for validation and not the refutation that might prove his idea(s). (Consider the lengthy section on the predictive power of his dreams — I struggle to see it as something done for effect, a nod to the new age conspiracy theorists.) He is annoyingly patronising at times, talking to an imagined audience that he just knows is ignorant of Pakistan (and Afghanistan and ...), which doesn't work too well when he elides more telling episodes in history such as USA realpolitik in early 1970s East Pakistan. Performative amnesia? There's also a strange, irrelevant and wrong gesture at Gödel’s theorem. The originality or correctness of his claim that Robert Bork's The Antitrust Paradox set the stage for the current-day megacorps (concomitant with loss of diversity and exacerbated fragility) is not clear to me. I did want to know more about the Muslim concept of corporation; that the absence of such precluded development in Islamic cultures is intriguing.

Goodreads. Hari Kunzru at length: the slab quote is a great way to avoid judgement.