When Ali Eteraz was born, his parents gave him the name Abir ul Islam, which means Perfume of Islam, and he had been taught his whole life that his destiny was to spread Islam and become a leader in the religion. Growing up in Pakistan, Eteraz struggled to understand his religion as he learned about it and also compared the rules of his religion to the way life really was in Pakistan at that time. When his family immigrated to the United States, he had to deal with his family’s strict rules and his Muslim upbringing while at the same time attempt to be a normal American teenager. Years later, in 1999, Eteraz returned to Pakistan but found his old homes taken over by Taliban ideology, and many of the teenagers in his village were acting like suicide bombers in training. Eventually Eteraz escapes Pakistan with a military escort because of all the threats to his family and himself – by this time, he is of course an outsider, and the people in the village were not happy about any outsiders coming in. When he returns to the United States, he attempt to find a middle ground type of Islam, and to educate people that the fundamentalist, radical Islam of terrorists is not the only way – that Islam is a wonderful religion. He doesn’t quite fulfill the promise of his birth name, but he does find an Islam that he can truly believe in.
The best way that I can describe Children of Dust is informative. I decided to accept it for review because I don’t know a lot about Islam, and I definitely got what I was looking for. With Children of Dust, Ali Eterez has written a complete memoir of his life, with Islam at the center of it. I loved getting a peek into this culture which I previously knew very little of. I loved reading about his family interactions, about the little village where he grew up, and even the hard stuff like when his religion teacher would beat him if he wasn’t able to perfectly recite verses in the Quran.
I found the part when he just arrived in the U.S. for the first time the most interesting. It was eye-opening for me to see how difficult it was for Eteraz to mix life in the United States with his strict, religious beliefs and his parents’ enforcement of those beliefs. He was so torn between his desires to be a “normal” teen (and his desires to get involved with girls) and his knowledge of the important tenets of his religion. There are so many crucial pieces of Islam which forbid a lot of “normal” teenage stuff, so it was very difficult for Eteraz to handle both aspects of his personality.
Ultimately, while I enjoyed Children of Dust I can’t say that I loved it. There were portions of the book that dragged, and I never really connected with Ali Eteraz. And for me to really love a memoir, I have to “get” the author – and Eteraz’s voice just fell flat for me. Not to say that the book wasn’t written well, because I think it was, but for me personally there was just a disconnect between the author and myself. Still, I enjoyed the book and would be happy to recommend it to those interested in the subject.