Thank you so much to the Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards committee for seeing this book and this journey and awarding All My Rage the Fiction and Poetry award. I learned I am the first Muslim American and Pakistani American to receive this award in its fifty-five-year history, something that makes me proud and gives me hope for all the young writers out there today working to make a place for their story. A message to them: there is a place for your words. I hope this award is a reminder of that.
One of the first things I learned as a child was how words that were beautiful on their own could, when joined with other words, mean horrible things.
I will start with a word I love. Home. Hoooome. The swoop of that word recalls a chant or benediction. It is a comforting word, though it conjures vastly different images depending on who is invoking it. Home might be a place. A room. A beach. A desert. It might be a person. Someone who makes you whole or shows you the best parts of yourself. It could be a song, one that evokes tastes and feelings.
Another word I love. Go. When I hear it, I think of an old Jónsi album exploding with fast synth beats. I think of my father saying “go” when the light flipped to green back when he still drove, and of the hot desert wind sliding through my hair when I ran a cross-country race. I think of the hours just before a book deadline, when all I can see is the work. Go. A word of movement and promise and wonder.
Let’s put those two beautiful words together, those words that conjure so much joy when used separately. Go. Home. Go home.
This is a phrase many immigrants know. It is often one of the first phrases we remember. Scrawled on walls or garages or notebooks. Easier to say and write than the old classic “Go back to where you came from.” Go home feels more violent, somehow. It is the twisting of two beautiful words into something unforgiving and cruel. It has been said to so many of us, here in America. Irish. Italian. Pakistani. Nigerian. Indian. Jewish. Hindu. Buddhist.
“Go home,” we are told, but what is home? My grandparents had a home in colonized India in the early 1900s. My grandparents who then saw that home torn in half by the Radcliffe Line. A home for Hindus — in India. And a home for Muslims — in Pakistan. Neat, easy! Done!
Or perhaps not. Home became a place soaked in blood. Millions of people lost their homes, and not just the roofs over their heads and the walls at their backs but the homes they found in the hearts of the people who loved them. Their favorite street foods. Their neighbors, many of whom they’d lived alongside for generations. Their lands. Their families. For years, home was not a beautiful thing anymore. It was something lost that would never come back, something the elders would speak of with longing until their voices faded.
Then, slowly, home became something new. Something acquired. Sharp and unknown, at first. Just a word, because the feeling wasn’t there yet. But then streets and faces and spaces became familiar. My parents, in their respective homes, came to know who in the neighborhood might offer aid — or steal a chicken. Who was honest at market — and who to stay away from. Blessed familiarity! Home, once more.
Only for home to change yet again. My parents had a home. In Pakistan. But they left, and home became, first, the bustling streets of 1970s London. And eventually, bizarrely, the California desert, ten thousand miles away from where they had been born.
The story is that when my father (who had gone ahead) picked my mother and us kids up from the airport, she stared out at the desolate landscape of the Mojave Desert and said, “What hell have you brought me to?” It never felt like home to my mother, that desert. But it was home to me. Those mercurial winds, that Tatooine sun, the forever dead grass. That was home.
So when people in my hometown said, “Go home,” I was mystified because I was home, and didn’t they know that home was hard won? That it had taken generations to find it?
They didn’t know. They don’t know. And that is why I write, so that I can explain what home means. The novelist Helen Garner said, “Story is a chunk of life with a bend in it.” The desert, my first home, had more switchbacks than anyplace I’ve lived since.
All My Rage is a product of those switchbacks. A product of that home. Officially, it is the story of a boy named Salahudin who is trying to keep his family’s failing motel alive, and his best friend, Noor, who wants only to go to college and leave the desert in the rearview forever. It is also about Misbah, Sal’s mother, and that strange time in teenagerhood when you realize that your parents are terribly flawed.
A truer description of the book: it is a fifteen-year meditation on the idea of home, which for so many of us is a place where forgiveness, family, trauma, and hope intersect. It is the words go home hissed over and over in a hundred ways, and a child’s response to that, a helpless scream of protest into the void — only it was not a void, as it turns out, but a years-long tunnel, and the scream has emerged on the other side as a roar made of paper and ink.
My hope is that in reading All My Rage, the people who recognize that keen will feel known and witnessed. I hope they will see that pain, as awful and unnecessary as it is, can sometimes become power. That some stories take time to tell. And that if they are on a difficult journey, a scary journey, they are not alone. They deserve the comfort and safety and joy of home, just like the characters of All My Rage.