Antidote to Islamomania and -phobia. Both.

February 8, 2011 at 12:15 am (By Amba)

At last!  Ali Eteraz’s Children of Dust is out in paperback.  Here’s the best introduction to it that I’ve seen,  from The Australian.

True, Ali’s my friend.  But my Amazon review is as objective as any I ever wrote:

I think it’s a pity that this book is being marketed as a memoir of Pakistan. That’s far too limiting. Yes, it gives an inside glimpse (and sniff) you won’t find anywhere else of life in a desert town in Baluchistan before and after the region began to be terrorized by militant fundamentalists. But you must realize that when he was sent to a harsh madrassa in that desert hometown of his relatives by uprooted parents seeking the anchor of piety, Ali Eteraz had already lived in Saudi Arabia as an infant and in the Dominican Republic, where his father attended medical school, as a small child. This is really a memoir of the postmodern condition of displacement, the quest for a home and a self through multiple identities, the diametrically opposed temptations of absolutism and absolute freedom. It is as much about America, an America seen through the looking glass of Islam — a stew of opportunity and spiritual danger, from Wallah Wallah to Allah-bama — as it is about Pakistan or about Saudi Arabia, where Eteraz’s life’s trajectory is conceived at the beginning and movingly consummated, in a way he himself did not expect, at the end.

While this book will give you a very particular, unsparing, sometimes very funny inside look at Islam, it also takes on universal issues: the antagonism between religion and sex; the secret collusion between zeal and ego; the profound difference between a top-down intellectual synthesis and an upwelling spiritual unity. What may be most unusual about this book is that rather than mainly satirize the follies of others, Eteraz flays himself first, mercilessly anatomizing the mixed motives that powered his precocious achievements as a scholar, lawyer, activist, writer, and reformer. He never utters Baudelaire’s words — “Hypocrite lecteur,–mon semblable,–mon frère!” — but his honesty unmasks the insecure vanity, and the tenderness and longing, that we all share.

Kafka said “A book should be an ax for the frozen sea within us.” This book shattered my defenses and softened my heart. I laughed and cried.


  1. Melinda said,

    Okay, just put it on hold at the Jefferson Market Library!

  2. A said,

    Ah, love your review. Just ordered up the book from my library too!

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