Brother Alive

Zain Khalid. Grove, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5977-9

In this auspicious debut, Khalid unfurls a beguiling story involving a Staten Island imam’s secrets. Salim Smith has adopted three boys, all sons of his inner circle of confidantes from his days at the Islamic University of Markab in Saudi Arabia. In their cramped apartment above Salim’s Staten Island mosque, the oldest son, Youssef, struggles along with his brothers to understand their father’s behavior, as Salim shuns human touch, locks himself in his room writing mysterious letters, and dramatically loses weight. Then as Youssef gets ready to start college at Columbia, he learns Salim had been thrust into a parental role he has no interest in. Salim’s story is fleshed out in the second section, which takes place decades earlier, with Salim living in Markab and being coopted by a powerful Saudi mufti, Ibrahim Sharif, into preaching to marginalized community members known as the “Unsettled.” Meanwhile, Ibrahim conducts dangerous experiments on the castoffs. In the final section, Salim returns to Saudi Arabia in search of a cure for his lingering health problems from Ibrahim’s regimen, and finds that Ibrahim has built a luxurious futuristic city on top of Markab. Youssef and his brothers follow and are soon working for Ibrahim, jeopardizing their planned reunion with Salim. Khalid brilliantly reveals new shades of truth from each character’s point of view, and perfectly integrates the many ideas about capitalism and religious extremism into an enthralling narrative. It’s a tour de force. Agent: Kent Wolf, Neon Literary. (July)
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