By Chet Yarbrough
Homeland Elegies: A Novel
By: Ayad Akhtar
Narrated by Ayad Akhtar
Ayad Akhtar (American author, playwright, novelist, and screenwriter-received 2013 Pulitzer for Drama.)
When listening to “Homeland Elegies”, one must remind oneself it is a novel. It is written by an author and screenwriter who can create characters with singular insight and theoretical power to change the world. Though there have been such people in history, they are never recognized in real time. Extraordinary people are only found in the perspective of history or in fictional stories by creative writers.
Many in history might be considered in the category of extraordinary people. They were not perfect, but they changed America, and in some cases the world, for the better. Extraordinary people are either revivified historic figures, or imaginary characters created by authors like Ayad Akhtar.
Pakistan, to many Americans, is a riddle wrapped in an enigma (a phrase Churchill used to describe Russia in the 1930s). The author manages to reveal some of that riddle in “Homeland Elegies”.
Without delving into the history of the author, the author’s main character is named Akhtar. One gathers from his novel, that Akhtar is an American, but his parents are from Pakistan. Akhtar is born into an upper-middle class family whose father is a renowned cardiologist.
Akhtar’s father sees Trump as a man like himself. Akhtar’s father is flawed in ways like Trump. Both Trump and Akhtar’s father look at life’s decisions as transactions with winners and losers.
Trump and Akhtar’s father’s mutual history of dalliance with prostitutes, their failure as business investors, and their unshakeable belief in the value of capitalist self-interest make Akhtar’s father and Trump brothers in both character and ambition.
Politically, the character Akhtar and his father are opposites. Akhtar’s father appears to have voted for Trump in the 2016 election; in part because of a brief medical encounter with Trump long before he became President. Akhtar argues with his father about Trump’s public persona. Trump’s lack of empathy, and his transactional domestic and foreign policy actions are “red flags” to his son. Though Akhtar loves his father, he attempts to bully him into changing his mind about Trump.
The author shows why Trump appeals to many Americans. The “…Elegies” help explain why disparaged American minorities (both nonwhites, and extreme libertarians), as well as white voters, support Trump.
Trump’s support crosses all strata of American life, including the rich, poor, educated, and un-schooled. Many Americans vote for and revere Trump. Trump’s appeal is not to any precise citizen category. His appeal is to every American that wants to be rich enough to be left alone by government or any outside interference.
One of several serious reflections by the characters in the “…Elegies” is an American Pakistani who uses Trump’s memes to punish anti-Islamist local governments that deny American Pakistani equality. This character is a brilliant strategist and wealthy investor. This super-wealthy investor, a born-in-America Pakistani, creates a hedge fund to be sold to communities that formerly denied Muslim equality in their cities.
This hedge fund creator concocts a hedge fund scheme to make money at the expense of anti-Muslim American city governments. Greed of government public fund’ investors blinds them to carefully worded risks in the hedge fund prospectus. In the end, these city bureaucrats nearly bankrupt their cities because of their failure to read the fine print. The cities governments sue the creator of the hedge-fund but are unsuccessful because the prospectus clearly explains the fund’s risk. The hedge-fund profits even more by having hedged against the fund because they knew what would happen to the original investment.
In a trip to Argentina last year, our guide suggested the same hedge-fund profiteering occurred in their country. Argentina fell prey to the same corporate shenanigan. Corporate investors profited twice (first in selling bonds and second from hedging against default). The Argentine people paid the price through inflated consumer prices and devalued currency.
The hedge fund creator has no empathy for citizens who are pawns in a scheme bought into by their local representatives.
The hedge fund creator’s primary objective is to punish local governments that had discriminated against creation of Muslim places of worship. The hedge fund creator exhibits the same characteristic that many ascribe to former President, Donald Trump. Trump shows little empathy for the public while focusing on those he wants to punish, regardless of collateral damage to innocent bystanders.
Two interesting perspectives come from this elegy of a super-wealthy American Pakistani investor.
- He explains why Eastern and Western cultures had such different economic histories. He notes corporations led to accumulation of wealth in Western nations. In contrast, in the hay days of the Muslim Empire, individual wealth was disbursed to relatives who steadily diminished capital and retarded the general welfare of the Empire. Eastern nations failed to adopt the idea of corporations for 300 years. In that 300 years, accumulated wealth in corporations allowed Western economies to grow while the East foundered.
- His second message is ironic. Individual managers of corporate wealth diminished the moral center of Western nation’ capitalism. The human flaw of greed became good.
The underlying theme of “Homeland Elegies” is that corporations have diminished the ideals of Adam Smiths’ theory of capitalism.
All races, colors, creeds, and religions succumb to the Hobbesian faults of being human. Only empathy for others can blunt the ill effects of corporatism and the wealth machine that feeds on the lives of the poor and near poor.
The author expands this argument in the elegy of a wealthy Black American who understands why Trump will win the 2016 election. This wealthy lawyer recognizes the link between corporate wealth and discrimination. He can see Trump will be elected in 2016 because White America wishes to maintain control of corporate wealth.
The counter to Trumpism in this American’s mind is to fight for control of corporate wealth; not to empathize with the poor, homeless, and non-white populations because it is a waste of time.
The S.P.A.C. (special, purpose acquisition company) movement reinforces this Black American’s argument.
Corporate and personal wealth are often experienced as a superpower created by the faults of human nature (namely greed). Citizens are not seen empathetically but only as transactions between company and customer.
Corporations see individual citizens and consuming customers as fodder for economic growth.
The author abandons a central corporatist distortion of reality with elegies of his personal sexual experience. The character of Akhtar falls somewhere between caring and transactional sexual relationships. In one encounter, it seems there is care for another; in most others, sex seems simply a pleasurable transaction. The inference is that casual sex is the equivalent of corporate greed.
The author’s main character sees sexual experience is often a transactional rather than caring experience between adults.
Ayad Akhtar is an insightful writer that gives listener/readers much to think about; not the least of which is unfair treatment of American citizens born here by former immigrant parents. One might look forward to seeing Akhtar’s theatrical production for better understanding of American culture.