|An unexpected offer of tea, a gift of gulab jamun sweets, and a silent prayer for a hospital room stranger are some of the quiet, deeply affecting gestures set among H. M. Naqvi's extraordinary novel Home Boy, a boisterous and funny coming-of-age story waylaid by the events and aftermath of September 11th.
Naqvi's central character, Shehzad, (he goes by his nickname of Chuck), ricochets through the city with his two closest friends, Jimbo – the gentlest of giants with an amusing style of circumlocution, and AC, a sharp, eccentric academic. He says, "… I'd arrived in New York from Karachi four years earlier to attend college, which I completed swimmingly in three, and though I was the only expatriate among us, liked to believe I'd since claimed the city and the city had claimed me." The claim does not hold in the post-September 11th world.
Mr. Naqvi graduated from Georgetown, has lived in New York, worked in finance, taught creative writing and won the Pelham Prize for poetry. He tells his story with supreme confidence, one that skillfully combines the fraught ex-pat experience, cultural clashes, the joy of being young in New York, the bonds of friendship, a friend's mysterious absence, a favorite bar, and even a priceless takedown of a 2002 NY Times review by Eric Asimov on the Jackson Heights' Kabab King.
It's best if you come at the story with no more information than that. We'll only add that it's one of the best books we've read all year – a big-hearted, yet unsentimental page-turner that is letter-perfect in its evocation of time and place. You don't need to know much about Pakistan to appreciate Naqvi's tale, only what it feels like to be outside looking in, when 'I will make one cup of tea' sound like the kindest words ever spoken.
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[Answers will be posted on the website after 3pm.]