Go Back to Where You Came From is a distinctly American story… populated with trolls and racism, but also with celebrations of family and the story of a young man discovering his voice. Ali is the son of Pakistani immigrants who grew up in Fremont, Ca, matriculated to Cal Berkeley, became a successful playwright, and is now a columnist at The Daily Beast and The NY Times. Among other things, this book is the story of his growth, from a young “hefty” Muslim boy to a middle-aged man still fighting his gut (me too😂). Ali is known for his humor and there are laughs on almost every page, yet there are times when that laughter is bitter… The ridiculousness of the online taunts or the strife he and his family endure after 9/11, yet there’s also just the absurdity of growing up in America in the 80s and 90s.
Wajahat and I are only a few years apart; I grew up right across the Bay in Marin County. I was a suburban white kid living my own awkward life, and in many ways ignorant to Ali’s experience. And while I was lucky to have parents who taught me lessons of understanding and acceptance, this book is proof that not everyone is exposed to other cultures and thus this ignorance can so easily breed hate, especially after 9/11.
A couple other things to add: Ali’s humor shines in his satirical “tests” of racism and patriotism. (How many points will you score?) This book continues the story to the current day, including Trump’s presidency and all the inflammatory rhetoric that came with it. He explains that the The Whiteness (micro-aggressions and explicit racism) has been pushed into the mainstream, and speaks to possible solutions to all this hate.
Go Back to Where You Came From should be on the shelf next to Undocumented by Dan-El Padilla Peralta and The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri. These are powerful books that can open minds and create a better and more empathetic nation.
5 out of 5 stars.
Thank you to NetGalley, W.W. Norton, and the author for an advanced copy for review.