Homeland Elegies by Ayad Akhtar

Homeland Elegies is narrated by an American-born, Pakistani playwright whose father is a physician who specializes in several rare cardiac disorders. The father, as a result of his expertise, gets flown to New York in the 80’s to personally examine Donald Trump who had been experiencing health issues. After a handful of first class flights, some fine dining and hotel living, the doctor feels a kinship with Trump and sees the best in his patient despite him being in the middle of several bankruptcy scandals. So when Trump runs for president in 2016, the father argues with his son that Trump’s antics are all bluster, he’s actually a great man, and even though he won’t win, it’s good to see Trump shaking up the status quo. The reader, along with the son, are left to wonder how a Muslim immigrant who is consistently maligned by Trump’s rhetoric could possibly vote for the man, as we are led to believe the doctor does.

Similarly, one wonders how Kurt Suzuki, a Japanese-American born and still living in Hawaii, a state where only 30% of the population voted for Trump in 2016, could smilingly don a “Make America Great Again” hat at the Nationals’ visit to the White House after winning the 2019 World Series.

Many media outlets captioned this photo as Donald Trump “hugging” Kurt Suzuki. I’m not sure I would qualify this as a hug.

As uncomfortable as the moment was for Hawaiians, it was probably more jarring for Nationals fans from Washington, D.C., where 91% of the population voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Many Nats fans who had just cheered Suzuki’s home run in the game two win over the Astros in the World Series, quickly denounced their catcher’s behavior.

In Homeland Elegies, the doctor comes to realize he either didn’t know the real Donald Trump or the man had changed during his run for the presidency. He eventually admits his support for the man was a mistake. We don’t know where Suzuki’s allegiance lies. He never really addressed the drama, saying only “Just trying to have some fun. Everybody makes everything political. It was about our team winning the World Series.”

Kurt Suzuki has managed to put together quite a career. He had a very strong college career at Cal State Fullerton, winning the Johnny Bench award for top collegiate catcher and twice reaching the College World Series, winning in an upset over the Texas Longhorns in 2004. Three years later he had reached the majors with the Oakland A’s and was their every day catcher in 2008 at 24 years old. For four years Suzuki was the primary catcher for the A’s, but after two down years going into his age 30 season, he was a free agent without a whole lot of demand for his services. Suddenly, he had his first and only all-star season with the Twins, and since then he has been a valuable member of several postseason teams. Currently he is playing in his 15th season, which is an accomplishment all by itself, but even more so to still be catching in the majors at age 37.

As for Homeland Elegies, it is a very well-written book. There is definitely a plot, but I didn’t feel that the plot was the best part of the book or even the main purpose. It took 50 – 100 pages for me to fully appreciate the book, but from that point on I was hooked. It provided plenty of opportunities to see things from different angles or with a clearer picture. As an example, one of the characters quotes a German Jewish sociologist named Norbert Elias who said, “The established majority takes its we-image from a minority of its best, and shapes a they-image of the despised outsiders from the minority of their worst.” Or, when describing his father, he says, “My father loves America. Loves it more than makes sense to me sometimes, frankly. He thinks he’s American, but what that really means is that he still wants to be American. He still doesn’t really feel like one. It’s been forty-five years, and he still doesn’t really understand what it means. Because being American is not about what they tell you – freedom and opportunity and all that horseshit. Not really. There is a culture here, for sure, and it has nothing to do with all the well-meaning nonsense. It’s about racism and money worship – and when you’re on the correct side of both those things? That’s when you really belong. Because that’s when you start to represent the best of what they think they are.”

As you would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Akhtar’s best writing comes from his dialogue. And that’s from the very beginning of the book. It did not take 50 to 100 pages to recognize how well he writes dialogue.

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