Children of Dust
A Memoir of Pakistan
By Ali Eteraz
(HarperOne, Hardcover, 9780061567087, 352pp.)
Publication Date: October 2009
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Ali Eteraz's Children of Dust is a spellbinding portrayal of a life that few Americans can imagine. From his schooling in a madrassa in Pakistan to his teenage years as a Muslim American in the Bible Belt, and back to Pakistan to find a pious Muslim wife, this lyrical, penetrating saga from a brilliant new literary voice captures the heart of our universal quest for identity.
Children of Dust begins in rural Islam at the lowest levels of Pakistani society in the turbulent eighties. This intimate portrayal of rustic village life is revealed through a young boy's eyes as he discovers magic, women, and friendship.
After immigrating with his family to the United States, Eteraz struggles to be a normal American teenager under the rules of a strict Muslim household.
In 1999, he returns to Pakistan to find the villages of his youth dominated by the ideology of the Taliban, filled with young men spouting militant rhetoric, and his extended family under threat. Eteraz becomes the target of a mysterious abduction plot when he is purported to be a CIA agent, and eventually has to escape under military escort.
Back in the United States, with his fundamentalist illusions now shattered, Eteraz tries to find a middle way within American Islam. At each stage of Eteraz's life, he takes on a different identity to signal his evolution. From being pledged to Islam in Mecca as an infant, through Salafi fundamentalism, to liberal reformer, Eteraz desperately struggles to come to terms with being a Pakistani and a Muslim.
Astonishingly honest, darkly comic, and beautifully told, Children of Dust is an extraordinary adventure that reveals the diversity of Islamic beliefs, the vastness of the Pakistani diaspora, and the very human search for home.
Ali Eteraz was born in Pakistan and has lived in the Middle East, the Caribbean, and the United States. A graduate of Emory University and Temple Law School, he was selected for the Outstanding Scholar's Program at the United States Department of Justice and later worked in corporate litigation in Manhattan. He has published articles in Dissent, Foreign Policy, AlterNet, and altMuslim; and is a regular contributor to The Guardian UK.
Ali Eteraz returned to his home country of Pakistan after living in the US to find himself at the center of an abduction plot. He describes his experiences in his new memoir, Children of the Dust. More at NPR.org
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“Ali’s story is long and heart-rending, sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, and his willingness to share it makes us all better off in the telling and re-telling as we reflect on our covenants and baggage.”
-Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies
“In Children of Dust . . . we follow the journey of a soul determined to reconcile the many worlds that live inside him. In a time rife with cultural misinterpretations and generalizations, sensitive accounts such as Children of Dust are invaluable assets.”
-Laleh Khadivi, novelist, author of The Age of Orphans
An astoundingly frightening, funny, and brave book. At a time when debate and reform in the larger landscape of the Muslim world, and in countries like Pakistan in particular, are virtually non-existent, Children of Dust is a call to thought.
-Fatima Bhutto, poet and writer
“...Not only for people who are interested in Pakistan or Islamic issues, but for anyone looking for a compellingpersonal story. Because ultimately, this memoir isn’t about religion but about a fascinating quest for selffulfillment.”
“Written with vivid descriptions, a smattering of urdu words and a very strong sense of nationalism... Children of Dust is an apt description of a thinking muslim.”
“Eteraz’s memoir is a fascinating, elucidating account of Muslim mores and education. In these times when fears of Islam are high, it is well worth reading.”
-The Providence Journal
“A gifted writer and scholar, Eteraz is able to create a true-life Islamic bildungsroman as he effortlessly conveys his comingof- age tale while educating the reader. When his religious awakening finally occurs, his catharsis transcends the page.”
This elegantly written memoir traces [Eteraz’s] relationship with the religion of his birth, fromhis childhood in Pakistan, where he feared beatings at the madrassa, to adulthood in the U.S. . . . Thoughtful and wry, he offers glimpses of a changing Pakistan and a U.S. immigrant’s journey, too.
[Eteraz’s] adventures are a heavenly read.
-O, The Oprah Magazine
A love letter to one man’s fading faith, Children of Dust is a gift and a necessity, and should be read by believers and nonbelievers alike. Sure to deepen our collective conversation about religion and reason, loyalty and universality, and our geopolitical aims, it’s also just plain fun to read.
-Yael Goldstein Love, author of Overture: A Novel and The Passion of Tasha Darsky
The gripping story of a young man exposed to both the beauty and ugliness of religion.
-Laila Lalami, author of Secret Son
Wildly entertaining, Children of Dust is memoir of the first order, as genuinely American as Muslim, unraveling the perilous mystery that is modern Pakistan as only memoir can. Unlike others, Eteraz has truly ‘been there,’ and we are all the better for it.
-Murad Kalam, author of Night Journey
“A …complex story of a young man’s journey into the heart of his own faith.… Knowledgeable, humorous and personable, Eteraz is an engaging storyteller.”
-San Jose Mercury News
“Children of Dust is a coming of age story, filled with warmth and humour, but it also explores some very serious questions… a powerful and marvellous personal memoir.”