The title of the book makes the authorial subject quite clear to the readers in the first glance of the book cover.
'Americastan'- this term might indicate the author's intentional attempt to unite (at least at the level of written language) two of the most conflicting countries of the world in terms of political thought, culture and history, but the way events unfold in the novel, the overall complexion and equation between the two communities that get revealed is one of friction, disharmony and tension. It is an 'Americastan' wherein the protagonist of the story is searching for a self which seems buried beneath an identity infected by racism, antagonism and social compulsion.
The passage from India-Pakistan partition to 9/11 aftermath
This is a story of a girl named Samira, a Pakistani-American through whose eyes we get a glimpse into a community that has migrated to a country of 'opportunities' leaving behind a culture that once defined its existence. A father's desire to give a better life to his children that he couldn't have owing to the violent history of India-Pakistan partition leads Tanweer's family to move to the secured quarters of the world superpower, i.e. America.
An accident (not really!) on the streets of Capitol Hill caused by Samira and her subsequent arrest on grounds of trying to run over her ex, Ethan, a White House Official, changes her life completely. The discovery of her name on the FBI terror list in the 9/11 aftermath, break-up with her boyfriend who marries another girl in the course of the novel and most importantly her loss of job are the contributing factors for her to drive back home.
Memories of her father being subjected to racial slurs on his emigration with family to the American soil in the aftermath of the India-Pakistan partition left an indelible mark in the mind of an 8-year-old Samira who was now herself in a similar situation post September 11 attacks, re-writing a different history for her generation. Her father was once called 'sandnigger', a word that she had heard for the first time when she was all of eight. She didn't know that 20 years later, a 21st century American society would not think twice in calling her a 'F****** Arab'.
Fall from corridors of power to family doors
Being a Pakistani-American herself, author Jabeen Akhtar has fore grounded the many social injuries that assumed synonymity with the daily life of Pakistanis living in the 'paradisiacal' land of America.
The transition from being a statistical analyst of tax reform policies and legislative aide to the Congressman under Jim Bailey, the boss, soon to contest the elections with the Governor as his opponent; to coming back to an ordinary status of a daughter assisting her mother in the kitchen with never-heard of Pakistani cuisines was not an easy reconciliation for Samira.
It was an uphill task for Samira as she struggled to assimilate herself amid premises of a household bustling everyday with the noise of strangers (read cousins and relatives), whipping up of authentic and greasy Pakistani meals, clanking silverware and of course younger siblings Meena and Khalid forever looking for an opportunity to sneak out of the house.
From once treading the official corridors of power as an employee contributing to the economy of world's superpower in Congressman Bailey's office to lazily walking up the floors to Mr. Kureshi's office, Samira becomes the spokesperson for her father's organisation PAC-PAC (Pakistani-American Council for Political Action Committee) that aimed to assist all Pakistanis wishing to settle down in America.
America: From the perspective of the young and the old Pakistani
Jabeen Akhtar has captured the sentiment and predicament of two generations of Pakistani community living in America battling with white resentment, suspicion and condemnation. When Samira tries to explain to her father that her name on the FBI terror list can really do no harm for she was a 'U.S. citizen', her father clarifies that the certificate of 'U.S. citizenship' cannot save a Pakistani from being declared a terrorist in an era of the Taliban and Bin Ladens.
Story of the other Tanweers
Khalid, Samira's brother is an 'agnostic' or so he claims to be and does not want the maulvi to preside his wedding in keeping with his father's demands who cannot let the Pakistani society in America perceive him as someone with no respect left for his motherland post migration. It is also ironic to see the same father defending his daughter's incapability to speak fluent Urdu on the grounds that mastery over the English language is essential to rule in a foreign land.
Meena, Samira's sister is a vibrant girl and loves to experiment with life but more often than not seems confused (even about her sexuality, whether she is a hetero or bi).
Mrs. Tanweer is forever locked in her kitchen hall, living her momentary moments of fun in mischievously spiking the punch with rum and serving it to the unaware and self-proclaimed guests of Islamic austerity and discipline.
A story well composed
A story of love, marriage, confused identities, friendship, culture, tradition and values comes alive in different shades through the voice of a protagonist, the script of which has been penned by an author sharing the same identity platform.
Author Jabeen Akhtar in her debut novel has woven a complex plot with a simple narrative sprinkled with occasional humour while keeping the gravity of the storyline intact.