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"Children of Dust," by Ali Eteraz

A Memoir of Growing Up iN Pakistan and Journeying from Islam and Back

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eteraz children of dust cover
The Book: Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan
The Author: Ali Eteraz
The Publisher: HarperOne
Specs: Non-Fiction, 352 pp.
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Children of Dust, his memoir of growing up in Pakistan and the United States, was published in late October by HarperOne. (The title, inspired by the Koran, is a riff on a satanic taunt of god for creating Adam of clay.) If St. Paul had his epiphany when he fell off his horse on the road to Damascus, Eteraz had his, in reverse, when he got back on his horse and high-tailed it away from the totalitarian ideology of the madrassas where his family had enrolled him. Here he was, a devout Muslim looking to deepen his faith happily and voluntarily in a madrassa, only to discover a world as bleak as Orwell's English boarding school (in "Such, Such Were the Joys") and as rigid as a Maoist reeducation camp, but allegedly in god's name. (Listen to Eteraz describe the transformation in his interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross).

There is a Voltairean feel (the Voltaire of Candide and Zadig, which owe plenty to the literature of the East) to the outline of Eteraz's narrative down to the way he summarizes his chapters: "Book V: The Reformer--Ali Eteraz, In which the author, aghast at the militant and murderous use to which Islam is being put, becomes an activist and goes to the Middle East to start a reformation."

It fits.

I'd always imagined Ali Eteraz as a novelist. Non-fiction is too constraining for his mind, too much like the madrassa of his youth. It pays the bills but doesn't satisfy the soul. Sure enough, Eteraz describes the book as "creative non-fiction." It's a memoir, but on Eteraz's terms: he aims to mold the world to himself rather than defer to the reverse. He never gives you the sense that he can't pull it off.

Besides, it's as simple as that: Islam needs Eteraz. So does the West.

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