“Home Boy” is the powerful début novel by the young, talented Pakistani writer H.M.Naqvi. A picaresque novel of post 9/11 America, it is hard-hitting and shocking in its depiction of a land, a landscape and a people changed for ever.
Three young Pakistani friends live in and around New York. AC, Jimbo and Chuck work, or not, depending on their luck and inclination. They drink, they party, they hang out, they womanise, and in varying degrees live their version of the American Dream.
Although they have westernised their names and seem to turn their backs on their cultural roots, they are all tied, inevitably, to their Pakistani families. AC’s sister, Mini Auntie, is formidable, feisty and hugely likeable. Jimbo’s dignified Pathan father, fiercely proud of New Jersey, and his affectionate daughter Amo, live their quiet lives waiting for the prodigal Jimbo to visit them.
The narrator, Chuck, the youngest in the trio, is the one still the most attached to Pakistan, thinking often of his widowed Ma, but never actually getting round to phoning her, usually because he has no money.
When the horrors of 9/11 happen, the trio face a totally changed America. Suspicion of outsiders turns to hatred turns to horror, when the three are arrested under suspicion of being terrorists.
For this reviewer, the moment of the arrests was the turning point in the book, not only dramatically but also emotionally. The writing becomes much more powerful, the language more compelling. The 3 young men, not particularly engaging up until then, take on the dimensions of tragic heroes, and the reader is unquestioningly on their side, willing them on as they face extreme prejudice and racial hatred. Chuck’s interrogation, incarceration and the emotional turmoil he feels in the aftermath of his release are ferociously well-written.
The souring of the American Dream, and the longing for the comforting noise and warmth of Home, combine to make this a moving read.
Home Boy is published by Harper Collins and the hardback retails in India for Rs 399.