Bareerah Y. Ghani
Dur e Aziz Amna’s riveting debut novel examines adolescence, that no-man’s land of skepticism, anger, and a yearning to at once reclaim yourself and be who the world wants you to be. It’s 2011. Sixteen-year-old Hira lives with her parents and younger brother in Rawalpindi—where mornings are welcomed by ghee-laden parathay swallowed alongside news of religious atrocities her parents never discuss, where the silence of nights is filled with the comforting hiss of traffic on roads that Hira can never drive on, and where tyrannical winters are made almost tolerable with Kashmiri chai slurped by the school gate with girls who are at once like Hira and yet unlike her in how they have accepted the “low, petty ceilings of their limits.” These limits tire Hira, making her eager to leave all that she has thus far called home. And so, by the time the acceptance letter arrives for a year-long exchange program in Oregon, Hira already has one foot out the door, naively believing the other will follow.
In rural Oregon, Hira is hosted by Kelly, a single mother—warm, welcoming and always the representative of an America that is great and safe, the land of opportunity. Hira can’t help but roll her eyes when Kelly thinks halal is the same as kosher and Pakistani kurtis are so “bohemian.” Kelly’s daughter Amy, on the other hand, is blunt about questions surrounding Hira’s Pakistani Muslim identity, and for that, Hira is grateful. Already, she is annoyed at being pitied by white women at the Sunday service she agrees to attend, and furious with jokes at school about Osama Bin Laden.
Comfort comes in befriending Hamid (another Muslim exchange student), solace in the short conversations with Ammi and Abbu made over calling cards, and finally some excitement over the possibility of romance with Ali, a family friend in NYC she connects with over Facebook. But just as Hira is beginning to feel steady on that one foot she has in America, her body decides to throw a tantrum. She begins coughing and soon enough, there is blood. The diagnosis? Tuberculosis. The treatment is a mandatory quarantine, and in the small town of Lakeview, word spreads fast about the Pakistani girl and her disease. Hira finds herself once more othered and alone, reliant on the kindness of strangers, longing to be home.
Throughout the story, Amna’s prose is swift and gorgeous, seamlessly carrying Hira’s retrospective point of view to offer meditations on teenage angst over religious conformity and patriarchal systems of Pindi to the superiority complex festering within both white-centered American spaces and the Pakistani diaspora.
Hira is a funny, smart, and snarky narrator who had me laughing out loud at her adolescent observations and finding affinity in her adult musings. I was captivated by her thoughts on home and the ghosts of it we carry through life. But what makes her unforgettable is how deeply flawed she is in her arrogance and how deeply relatable she is in her love-hate relationship with her homeland.
For its striking cast of characters and beautiful prose, Dur e Aziz Amna’s first novel stands out. The debut positions her voice and work in a niche of its own—the writer with an unbridled and unapologetic Pakistani lens, who is not looking for approval from the dominant culture in which she’s writing and publishing. I’m in awe of her brilliance and remain excited to see what Amna brings next.
American Fever, published in 2022 by Arcade Publishing, is available for purchase online.
Dur e Aziz Amna
grew up in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and now lives in New Jersey, USA. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Financial Times, and Longreads, among others. She won the 2019 Financial Times / Bodley Head Essay Prize, with an e-book publication by Penguin, and was longlisted for the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award 2020. She graduated from Yale College and the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. AMERICAN FEVER is her debut novel. Follow her on twitter @durewrites
Bareerah Y. Ghani
is the Assistant Fiction Editor for phoebe, an MFA candidate at George Mason University, and a book reviewer at Publishers Weekly. Her work has appeared in Moon City Review, Electric Literature, and others. Follow her on Twitter @Bareera_yg or Instagram @bareerah_ghani.