Ayad Akhtar

Long before 9/11 and and today's FOX News alarmism about sharia law, growing up Muslim-American was a still complicated but more private struggle. American-born and raised in Wisconsin, the playwright/actor/screenwriter/novelist Ayad Akhtar came of age in the '80s, much like the young protagonist of his American Dervish (Little Brown, $14.99, new in paperback). His Pakistani immigrant father scoffs at fundamentalists, his mother endures the philandering of her husband, and young teenager Hyat finds solace in memorizing verses of the Koran, prompted in part by the arrival of lovely Mina, a kind of surrogate aunt. Mina sees beauty and peace in the book, but she's also fleeing an arranged, abusive marriage back in Karachi. She inspires Hyat to visit the local mosque, where she also takes her suitor—a Jewish physician who contemplates religious conversion. What Hyat finds inside, however, is that that divine verses don't always get translated properly into real life. His hormones, Mina's desires, his parents' foundering marriage—the Koran provides a refuge but no answers to these conflicts. (Faith and flesh are also opposed in the 2005 movie The War Within, which Akhtar co-wrote and starred in, about a suicide bomber in New York.) And a side note: Akhtar's new play Disgraced, a dinner-party drama about Muslim assimilation on the Upper East Side, is currently a hit off Broadway. Bookers for ACT or the Rep would be wise to buttonhole Akhtar after tonight's reading. BRIAN MILLER

Tue., Nov. 13, 7 p.m., 2012

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