Book Review | Not your typical desi-goes-to-America novel


17 December 2022

Hira isn’t in pursuit of the American dream, she just wants to get away from the small-mindedness of Pakistan. When she’s selected for a one-year exchange programme in Oregon, she’s undeniably excited — besides 2011 is a wonderful time to be in America because “…the cool guy’s in the White House.”

Hira explains, “Of course, I had wanted to go. Not desperately, passionately, like the Hollywood foreigner’s yearning for America, like the Third Worlder’s slobbering. Mostly, I had wanted to leave. At sixteen, I was tired of limits, aghast that life could be so small. Tired of those same girls I had known all my life, of girls who called their periods their ‘visitors’, girls who opened their legs to a waxing lady each month so they would have no hair ‘down there’ by the time they got married, girls who wore their piety and innocence like goddamn medals to be polished every night before bedtime.”

At the orientation program before departure, Hira meets the other students, one of whom is delighted that her host family is from India. Hira wonders “what the point of travelling to America was if you were going to live with a Muslim family that spoke Urdu. I hadn’t communicated with my host family yet, but I knew enough about them to know all the ways they were different from me. White. Christian. American.”

The students are given a list of do’s and don’ts by the programme coordinator. Like, do not refuse to clean your own bathroom—so what if you never did it at home. “American moms,” he said, “are not like Pakistani women. They have jobs, and they’ve volunteered to host you. For free — remember that none of these families are being compensated. You should be ready to look after yourselves and do chores.”

Hira thinks she’s ready, but is she? Rural Oregon is not remotely like urban cosmopolitan cities in the US — halal meat, for instance, is not easily available. Then there’s Kelly, her host, a warm and kind single parent. While Kelly and her daughter are nice, they’re not like real family. Hira has to get used to paying her way when they eat out, not be fussed over when she’s unwell, et cetera. However, Hira admits to herself that it’s not as though she got on fabulously well with her own parents too. Getting used to her new school is another challenge, what with the strange Americanness of it all and ghastly volleyball practice to boot! 

Just as she finally come to grips with her new life, tragedy, or rather tuberculosis, strikes. Hira is now a pariah—she can’t step out of the house or travel home to Pakistan till she’s completely cured. 

American Fever is not your typical desi-goes-to-America book, which is why it’s refreshing. While Hira’s experiences and the little ways in which she opens herself up are what make the book interesting, teenage angst is ingrained in the story too, made all the more hilarious andor annoying because Hira is prickly and sarcastic by nature.

American Fever
By Dur e-Aziz Amna
pp. 245, Rs.799

Latest News
Most Popular