BOOK REVIEW: ‘Home Boy’

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HOME BOY

By H.M. Naqvi

Shaye Areheart, $23, 276 pages

REVIEWED BY PETER HANNAFORD

You’ve read one or two before: a novel about young people coming of age or finding their way in Manhattan. This first novel, however, is like none you will have ever encountered. H.M. Naqvi tells the story of three men in their early twenties who, on one level, live as if there were no tomorrow, partying late night after night, experimenting with drugs, hooking up with young women, getting into brawls. They seem rootless, uncertain about what they want to do with their lives. On another level, they are unconsciously trying to reconcile the fact that they live in two worlds, the world of modern America and the tradition-filled world of Pakistan.

Of the trio, one, Jimbo (Jamsheed Khan) was born in New Jersey where his father still lives. Another, A.C. (for his full name, Ali Chaudhry) is an immigrant, teaching in the Bronx while working sometimes on a doctorate. The third, the narrator, Chuck (real name, Shehzad), is a Pakistani expatriate who arrived in the United States four years earlier to attend college. Although A.C. professes atheism, Chuck and Jimbo are secularized Muslims. Each has fulfilled the prediction of A.C.’s elder sister, Mini Auntie:

“You could spend 10 years in Britain and not feel British, but after spending 10 months in New York, you were a New Yorker, an original settler, and in no time you would be zipping uptown, downtown, crosstown, wherever, strutting, jaywalking, dispensing directions to tourists like a mandarin.”

And so it was with the trio.

Chuck has the good fortune to land a research job at a large investment firm. He does well for several months, but when a downturn hits and the staff is trimmed, he gets a pink slip. He looks for another job, without success, but in a chance taxi ride, stumbles into the cabbie business. He leases a cab from its owner and enjoys the new adventure - for a time.

The central event of the drama that is about to unfold is a trip the three friends take late one night in the cab to look for a casual acquaintance, the Shaman, at his Connecticut home. The Shaman, whose business is a mystery, had invited the friends to a lavish garden party he had put on the previous summer. This time, he wasn’t home, nor was there much furniture or food in the house. They settle in for the night, but are awakened early the next morning by a knock on the door. It is the FBI. The neighbors had called - this was soon after Sept. 11- because they thought the yellow taxicab and the three brown-skinned men alighting from it might be up to no good.

You will have to read the book to savor the fear, despair and wry irony involved in the events that followed. Chuck and Jimbo do get back to civilization right after the latter’s elderly father suffers a heart attack. This event draws the more-or-less estranged son to his very traditional father. He also finds himself wanting finally to marry his girlfriend. And, Chuck finds the first stirrings of love toward Jimbo’s sister.

Mr. Naqvi has given us a tale that is colorfully detailed, funny in places, sad in others, frightening in still others. His characters come to life in a way that lets us like them for their antics and quirks and, just below the surface, their humanity.

Peter Hannaford, a former Washingtonian, writes from California.

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