Published: November 4, 2014
Genre: Memoir / Humor
If you're an Indo-Muslim-British-American actor who has spent more time in bars than mosques over the past few decades, turns out it's a little tough to explain who you are or where you are from. In No Land's Man Aasif Mandvi explores this and other conundrums through stories about his family, ambition, desire, and culture that range from dealing with his brunch-obsessed father, to being a high-school-age Michael Jackson impersonator, to joining a Bible study group in order to seduce a nice Christian girl, to improbably becoming America's favorite Muslim/Indian/Arab/Brown/Doctor correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
This is a book filled with passion, discovery, and humor. Mandvi hilariously and poignantly describes a journey that will resonate with anyone who has had to navigate his or her way in the murky space between lands. Or anyone who really loves brunch.
The Humorous Memoir genre is my favorite when it comes to audio books and I have almost universal good luck with them. So, I went into No Land's Man expecting to really enjoy it. After all, it promised to be funny and I've always enjoyed Aasif Mandvi on The Daily Show (for the record, Mandvi was my vote to replace Jon Stewart).
What I didn't expect is how profound this book could be. Yes, there are some purely fun moments and it dips now and then into potty humor (which I am not against!), but there are also essays on identity and belonging and family that are far more deeply written than anything I have ever read in other (more highly-hyped) books in this vein.
This book is not just a collection of funny stories--it is Mandvi's quest to define himself. He doesn't fit into any of the niches we have - he was born in India, but isn't "Indian" as we know it; he was raised in England, but doesn't look English; he was raised Muslim, but doesn't act like any Muslim most Americans would recognize. He battles the expectations put on him by his family and by society and, in the midst of this, blazes his own trail.
This memoir differs from other such memoirs (for example, Yes, Please and Bossypants) because very little of it deals with his life once he "makes it." He doesn't talk about The Daily Show until the last chapter of the book. There are a few chapters talking about his days before making it big, but most of the book is about his experiences growing up as an East Asian immigrant, first in the north of England and then in Tampa, Florida.
I will say this is probably the best written book in this genre that I've read. His essay dealing with profanity is one of the best I've read on the subject (strangely, I have read more than a few essays on profanity). There is also an essay in the middle of the book--because I listened to this book, I can't go back and find the title--that is just beautiful. It talks about his parents coming to Bradford and settling--both with each other and in this new land. If I had any complaints about this book, it would only be that that this particular essay would have been more effective as a closing essay than buried in the middle of the book.
I really can't recommend this book highly enough. I could barely stop listening to it (which meant that I was hitting the gym whenever possible--that alone is pretty impressing) and it made me both laugh and think.
I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.