In “Home Boy” (Shaye Areheart Books), first-time novelist H.M. Naqvi allows us to see New York City in a fresh light.
The book starts as a witty, sharply observed story of a Pakistani immigrant who has fallen in love with the energy of the metropolis and what appears to be its boundless acceptance of newcomers from abroad.
Our hero — nicknamed “Chuck” back home in Karachi — comes to Manhattan as a scholarship student at NYU and then stays on, due to the lure of a Wall Street job and the sheer fun of the fast-lane lifestyle he enjoys with two fellow Pakistanis, known as “AC” and “Jimbo.”
The young men dive into the same wild, sexy downtown life as many another hero (or heroine) in a modern New York novel.
“We fancied ourselves boulevardiers, raconteurs, renaissance men, AC, Jimbo and me. We were mostly self-invented and self-made and certain we had our fingers on the pulse of the great global dialectic,” Naqvi writes.
Then comes 9/11.
Suddenly stranded in a city that has changed radically in the course of one morning, Chuck and his friends feel a new chill in the air and realize they are no longer part of the fabled melting pot: “…I finally got it. I understood that just like three black men were gangbangers, and three Jews a conspiracy, three Muslims had become a sleeper cell.”
Many 9/11 novels have been published over the past eight years, but “Home Boy” takes us into new territory by placing us among people who are just as horrified as any other New Yorkers by the events of that day, but who are victimized as potential terrorists simply because of their religion, their skin color and their country of origin.
A spur of the moment trip to Connecticut by the three friends turns into a Kafkaesque nightmare when the men wind up in jail as suspected enemies of the U.S.
Chuck is released, but sees that his fellow New Yorkers in the streets and on the subway clearly harbor doubts about him. The young man becomes hyper-aware of the way he is being viewed: “An ancient Chinese couple in matching embroidered Mao suits watched me unflinchingly and, it would seem, unforgivably…And in the far corner, a waifish man sporting a streaked crew cut eyed me while tugging the stud in his ear. It was a free country: he was free to stare; I was free to cringe…When they announced, ‘Please report any suspicious activity or behavior’ over the speakers, I closed my eyes like a child attempting to render himself invisible.”
H.M. Naqvi has made a very auspicious debut.