This whimsical debut glimpses the future of Islam and stars an atheist who flirts with the realities of Paradise and hell.
It’s 2050, and Ismael has been a New Yorker since 18, when he ran away from his Pakistani family. Now 30, the nonbeliever is writing his doctoral thesis on the Muslim ideas of Paradise and hell. After a spiritually inclined friend recommends trying the medicinal substance ayahuasca, Ismael has an eye-opening experience. While in a trancelike state, he meets the prophet Khidr, who tells him to return to Pakistan for a mission chosen by fate. Later, in his apartment, Ismael discovers a plane ticket to Lahore, his father’s hometown, and a letter from someone named Pir Pullsiraat, who beckons him onto the Path to High Knowledge. Once back in Pakistan, Ismael finds that the caliphate government now rules with its grueling fundamentalism: the sport of cricket is now played to the death, and young boys consider suicide vests the highest fashion. Wali, his father’s right-hand man, drives Ismael around, nearly getting him killed for forgetting once-memorized parts of the Quran. Eventually, Ismael encounters both good and bad elements of the spirit world, but can he survive long enough to infiltrate his father’s—and the government’s—inner circle and complete his mission? Author Ismael’s debut is a psychedelic, boundary-pushing excursion into the heart of the world’s second largest religion. He does a beautiful job explaining the features of Islam to readers while also having fun; in one scene, Ismael has his passport checked by a man with a gigantic beard and thinks, “I was now in a land where size definitely mattered.” With Ismael’s spiritual journeys, the author fearlessly depicts all that is weird and erotic, which fans of Chuck Palahniuk—particularly Damned (2012)—will appreciate. And Ismael doesn’t criticize fundamentalist Islam alone; Pir Pullsiraat loathes all of humanity, since even “a pack of wolves doesn’t punish, persecute, or kill” another pack over their differences. At the end of Ismael’s tale, readers may find themselves just as enlightened as he is.
An invigorating romp that surprises with every chapter.