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Children of Dust: A Portrait of a Muslim as a Young Man [Paperback]

Ali Eteraz
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Book Description

1 Mar 2011
“[Eteraz’s] adventures are a heavenly read.” —O, the Oprah magazine

“In this supremely assured, lush, and rip-roaring book, Eteraz manages to do the impossible, gliding confidently over the chasm that divides East and West. Wildly entertaining…memoir of the first order.” —Murad Kalam, author of Night Journey

Ali Eteraz’s award-winning memoir reveals the searing spiritual story of growing up in Pakistan under the specter of militant Islamic fundamentalism and then overcoming the culture shock of emigrating to the United States. A gripping memoir evocative of Persepolis, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and the novel The Kite Runner, Eteraz’s narrative is also a cathartic chronicle of spiritual awakening. Yael Goldstein Love, author of Overture, calls Children of Dust “a gift and a necessity [that] should be read by believers and nonbelievers alike.”

Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (1 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061626856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061626852
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 13.3 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,286,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


[Eteraz’s] adventures are a heavenly read. (O, The Oprah Magazine)

Wildly entertaining, Children of Dust is memoir of the first order, as genuinely American as Muslim, unraveling the perilous mystery that is modern Pakistan as only memoir can. Unlike others, Eteraz has truly ‘been there,’ and we are all the better for it. (Murad Kalam, author of Night Journey)

The gripping story of a young man exposed to both the beauty and ugliness of religion. (Laila Lalami, author of Secret Son)

A love letter to one man’s fading faith, Children of Dust is a gift and a necessity, and should be read by believers and nonbelievers alike. Sure to deepen our collective conversation about religion and reason, loyalty and universality, and our geopolitical aims, it’s also just plain fun to read. (Yael Goldstein Love, author of Overture: A Novel and The Passion of Tasha Darsky)

“In Children of Dust . . . we follow the journey of a soul determined to reconcile the many worlds that live inside him. In a time rife with cultural misinterpretations and generalizations, sensitive accounts such as Children of Dust are invaluable assets.” (Laleh Khadivi, novelist, author of The Age of Orphans)

An astoundingly frightening, funny, and brave book. At a time when debate and reform in the larger landscape of the Muslim world, and in countries like Pakistan in particular, are virtually non-existent, Children of Dust is a call to thought. (Fatima Bhutto, poet and writer)

This elegantly written memoir traces [Eteraz’s] relationship with the religion of his birth, fromhis childhood in Pakistan, where he feared beatings at the madrassa, to adulthood in the U.S. . . . Thoughtful and wry, he offers glimpses of a changing Pakistan and a U.S. immigrant’s journey, too. (Booklist)

“A gifted writer and scholar, Eteraz is able to create a true-life Islamic bildungsroman as he effortlessly conveys his comingof- age tale while educating the reader. When his religious awakening finally occurs, his catharsis transcends the page.” (Publishers Weekly)

“A …complex story of a young man’s journey into the heart of his own faith.… Knowledgeable, humorous and personable, Eteraz is an engaging storyteller.” (San Jose Mercury News)

Compelling. (Washington Post)

“Eteraz’s memoir is a fascinating, elucidating account of Muslim mores and education. In these times when fears of Islam are high, it is well worth reading.” (The Providence Journal)

“Children of Dust is a coming of age story, filled with warmth and humour, but it also explores some very serious questions… a powerful and marvellous personal memoir.” (

“...Not only for people who are interested in Pakistan or Islamic issues, but for anyone looking for a compellingpersonal story. Because ultimately, this memoir isn’t about religion but about a fascinating quest for selffulfillment.” (

“Written with vivid descriptions, a smattering of urdu words and a very strong sense of nationalism... Children of Dust is an apt description of a thinking muslim.” (

“Ali’s story is long and heart-rending, sometimes funny, sometimes frustrating, and his willingness to share it makes us all better off in the telling and re-telling as we reflect on our covenants and baggage.” (Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies)

From the Back Cover

An extraordinary personal journey from Islamic fundamentalism to a new life in the west

In this spellbinding portrayal of a life that few Americans can imagine, Ali Eteraz tells the story of his schooling in a madrassa in Pakistan, his teenage years as a Muslim American in the Bible Belt, and his voyage back to Pakistan to find a pious Muslim wife. This lyrical, penetrating saga from a brilliant new literary voice captures the heart of our universal quest for identity and the temptations of religious extremism.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent Read 5 Dec 2009
I have not been moved by a book in a long time, but I was touched by this book. It portrays Muslims as humans, who have the same problems as everyone else - money, education, employment, struggle of an immigrant, and then they have additional struggle of finding a balance between their religious identity and the culture of their adoptive country. It provides insight into that struggle, and how it would be so easy to loose that battle. The book touches some raw nerves in the Muslim Diasporas, it airs some dirty laundry, which no doubt will irk a lot of Muslims especially the one inclined towards fundamentalist ideology, and it highlights the conflict that Muslim youth face.

The book is amazing because it makes no apologies, and there is no negativity. Ali Eteraz does not demonize the religion or his personal conditions. He makes us all realise that even when things are bad, there is beauty and normalcy. The book is beautifully written. It is not about black and white, it is the story of various shades of grey. It is a sad book, but it is also joyous book. The book does service to Muslims in America that many scholars and fist thumping Muslims have been unable to do. Children of Dust, is a story of humanity, and it makes Muslims human, again.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  30 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About Far More than Pakistan 29 Nov 2009
By amba - Published on
I think it's a pity that this book is being marketed as a memoir of Pakistan. That's far too limiting. Yes, it gives an inside glimpse (and sniff) you won't find anywhere else of life in a desert town in Baluchistan before and after the region began to be terrorized by militant fundamentalists. But you must realize that when he was sent to a harsh madrassa in that desert hometown of his relatives by uprooted parents seeking the anchor of piety, Ali Eteraz had already lived in Saudi Arabia as an infant and in the Dominican Republic, where his father attended medical school, as a small child. This is really a memoir of the postmodern condition of displacement, the quest for a home and a self through multiple identities, the diametrically opposed temptations of absolutism and absolute freedom. It is as much about America, an America seen through the looking glass of Islam -- a stew of opportunity and spiritual danger, from Wallah Wallah to Allah-bama -- as it is about Pakistan or about Saudi Arabia, where Eteraz's life's trajectory is conceived at the beginning and movingly consummated, in a way he himself did not expect, at the end.

While this book will give you a very particular, unsparing, sometimes very funny inside look at Islam, it also takes on universal issues: the antagonism between religion and sex; the secret collusion between zeal and ego; the profound difference between a top-down intellectual synthesis and an upwelling spiritual unity. What may be most unusual about this book is that rather than mainly satirize the follies of others, Eteraz flays himself first, mercilessly anatomizing the mixed motives that powered his precocious achievements as a scholar, lawyer, activist, writer, and reformer. He never utters Baudelaire's words -- "Hypocrite lecteur,--mon semblable,--mon frère!" -- but his honesty unmasks the insecure vanity, and the tenderness and longing, that we all share.

Kafka said "A book should be an ax for the frozen sea within us." This book shattered my defenses and softened my heart. I laughed and cried.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review: Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz 18 Oct 2009
By Debra Saturday - Published on
Enchanting. Thought provoking. Sad and yet hopeful. Roller coaster.

Those words come to mind when I think of Children of Dust by Ali Eteraz. I enjoyed reading this book. From the first pages, to the last...I was not sure where Ali was taking me. And trust me it was a journey.

The enchanting part...the descriptions of his life in detail...the colors, the shabbiness of the old clothes, the scents surrounding his life...the language...took me into his world and I felt a part of his life. His child's eyes saw everything and with his eyes, I saw a life of poverty and yet full of love and joy at times. Ali's eyes also saw great sadness and horrors that we in the West cannot imagine and gratefully so.

Through Ali's eyes, I saw Islam. Ali saw both the Islam that is peaceful and an Islam that can be brutal. To read of a child learning Islam (the faith) was inspiring. To read of a child learning Islam (the religion) was saddening. I have to say some of the more violent parts were hard for me to read. In fact, I had to set the book aside and meditate. No one wants to read of abuse. However, read I did and I learned the difference between faith and religion.

Ali writes with a sense of humor and such an openness that it is hard to believe he has seen many acts of violence in his life. He gives everyday people another reason to believe know they have a voice and have a right to live in peace.

During his metamorphoses, the book was hard to follow. It seemed Ali had lost his focus. Yet wouldn't you and I lose some focus while changing? We would. The one thing that remained was his love for Islam.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Coming of Age -- as a Muslim 11 Nov 2009
By Jennifer Donovan - Published on
I give this 3.5 stars.

The book was interesting, thorough and well-written. Though this might seem like a sexist assumption, it seemed more like a "man's book" to me. I have read books of this type and enjoyed them, but for some reason as a woman, I didn't really relate to Ali Eteraz as he shared his life from early adolescence through young adulthood, told through the lens of a very-hormonal (aren't they all) adolescent.

However, for those interested in the Muslim religion, he was quite thorough and even-handed -- expressing his ups and downs as he delved into fundamentalism at times, became an activist, and shied away from his faith and roots at others.

His changes in philosophy are marked by changes in his name as well, as he goes from his given name Abir ul Islam (perfume of Islam) to the more American Amir, to Ali Eteraz (Noble Protest).

The most appealing part of this story to me was the coming-of-age angle. I chuckled in recognition as the teen and young adult Ali Eteraz was always convinced that whatever viewpoint he held was THE right viewpoint and the one that everyone should hold.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A darkly hilarious, poignant read 26 Oct 2009
By M. Haq - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ali Eteraz's Children of Dust is an enjoyable, interesting memoir. The book's beginning focuses on his childhood in Pakistan, which is some of the best writing I have read from this author. Eteraz deftly makes use of magic realism to bring the culture and myths of Pakistan alive. For those whose only exposure to Pakistan is headlines regarding Taliban and nuclear weapons, the perspective brought by this memoir will be an eye-opening experience.

Eteraz's dark humor is subtly woven into the text, and there were several places where I found myself laughing out loud. The honesty with which Eteraz explores his development and efforts to make sense of his relationship with Islam is striking. His willingness to be open about this struggle, combined with his signature lyrical and humorous writing, is truly what makes this memoir a thoroughly enjoyable read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Coming of Age Into Islam 16 Oct 2009
By Viviane Crystal - Published on
What do readers want from a memoir about Pakistan? Political commentary? Religious inspiration or denigration? A rational explanation of a different way of life? An expose of the many different facets of Islam? For this reader, the latter possibility shines forth in this memoir about Ali Eteraz tracing his life from birth to mid-twenties. His family takes him to the sacred shrine at Mecca, rubs him against a heavy black stone at the Ka'aba and pledges his life to the service of Islam. Indoctrinated from a very young age, Ali struggles at the face of Islam he meets. We never know precisely what he learns at the madrassa (Islamic school) other than the sadistic cruelty of child-abusing teachers, not very inspiring for sure. But as Ali grows older, he wrestles with conforming to the expansive laws and rules that require unbelievable discipline.

Ali then wrestles with the challenges of a normal, healthy teenage male, experiencing temptations that clearly conflict with the fundamentalist practices of his family. In the midst of this struggle, Ali must pass from being taught about Islam to exploring, embracing, challenging and seeing what he owns through experience and what is just custom that doesn't always fit in with his high school and college education. To many, Ali learns, Islam is a political or cultural habit, like a piece of clothing one can embrace or discard at a whim, but he wonders where are those who live Islam out of love of its teachings and laws and not just ritualistic practice. Who is right and who is wrong, the fundamentalists or liberals? Can one really truly call one's self faithful to Islam by living a middle-of-the-road practice of this demanding religion? Is reform needed? Ali studies his religion in a thoughtful manner that, albeit lacking substance for the reader as to the content of his studies, makes one's respect tangibly grow for Ali in his scholarly immersion.

Funny, tortured and profound, Ali very briefly abandons it all only to realize he has no identity without Islam and that it is his mission to be a conduit of reform, fighting terrorism and lackluster attitudes with equal and vivacious zeal. Rejecting the type of practice that leads to abuse with the ascendancy of the Taliban to power and control, Ali arrives at a momentous realization, finding beauty in a "we" moment of serving others rather than continuing to search for what this religion can do for or give to him. Freedom just might be a word that means one loses one's truest spiritual identity.

Children of Dust: A Memoir of Pakistan is written in a highly intelligent, wise, humorous and straight-forward manner that will appeal to many readers searching in their own journey or wanting to understand and appreciate the journey of this particular people's religion and nationality.

Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on October 15, 2009
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