Book Review: Home Boy By H. M. Naqvi

September 1, 2010

This book is about three young, rap-spouting, coke-snorting Pakistani men who call themselves Metrostanis. Claiming New York as home, they are equally at ease in “the paan-stained streets of Jackson Heights” as in the hush-hush lounges of Tribeca populated by “socialites, arrivistes, homosexuals, and metrosexuals.” When 9/11 strikes, their Metrostan is exposed as a mere simulacrum of a home that crumbles as they are ejected from habitual haunts, and a madcap dash to Connecticut to save a friend results in a harrowing run-in with the FBI. Needless to say, this is an exciting read. The prose, a wicked amalgam of slang and dazzling wordcraft, swerves and hurtles like the virtuosic hijinks of a cabdriver in Manhattan traffic. If the journey’s end is a bit unsurprising and unsatisfying, it’s because Naqvi handles the controversial sociopolitical issues tentatively. The passages on the jihad and the hijab, and the fleeting effect of the stint at the detention center, pale in comparison to Mohsin Hamid’s rigorous The Reluctant Fundamentalist, especially since the young, returned-émigré Pakistani narrator of that book tells a similar tale. For all that, Naqvi’s debut is a provocative and irresistible success.

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Naqvi's work is thoughtful and honest. While his writing sometimes brags of his literary background a little too strongly, it is still far less pretentious, far more perturbing than the frivolity that Mohsin Hamid calls a story.