This is a difficult one to parse and review for me. The blurb makes it seem like it’ll be a series of essays in the vein of other comedians, focused on what it means to be Muslim and American. That characteristic blend of humor and drama via a look at an ethnic group that faces ongoing persecution in the States.
And while it’s not not that, it’s also a complicated semi-defensive recounting of Ali’s family’s legal troubles and the related fallout in their Muslim-American community in Fremont, California. Unlike fiction, real life is messy. In a nutshell, Ali’s parents were caught up in a cybercrime investigation and charged with the lesser crimes of fraud centered around illegally obtaining copies of Microsoft Office for academia purposes. Did they do it? That’s not the real question so much as “what degree did they do something that infringed on the rights of a large global corporation”? As Ali says:
My take on it after all these years is that my parents made dumb and questionable business decisions, but I sincerely don’t think they were Walter White from Breaking Bad, deliberately orchestrating a criminal plot. My parents, two Pakistani American immigrants who had a beef with Microsoft, spent nearly five years in jail, but the Wall Street architects of the 2008 financial crisis that ruined so many Americans mostly got wealthier and failed upward in life.
And honestly I…don’t disagree? But also…there are so many immigrants who don’t get swept up in dragnets? But also, the justice system in this country is a travesty and a mess that targets those who can least afford to fight back? But also, you make a deal with the devil when you decide to partake in late stage capitalism and when it comes due you’re on the hook?
It might be reductive (and besides the point) to judge an entire book based on the actions of Ali’s parents, who aren’t even the main characters. If anything, the parts afterwards, when he finds that “so many lifelong friends and community members simply abandoned us overnight, and how some were outright gleeful at our misery.” As a member of a similar sort of tightknit immigrant group, it’s hard not to think of what would happen if my family’s hard-fought fortunes were to turn. It’s not a novel concept, that the successes of the first generation to escape poverty are perched on a glass mountain.
So, at the end of the day, I’m torn. I feel like the book is overshadowed by Ali’s parents but also understand that his story is inextricably intertwined.