KANSAS – The US government rounds up Muslims and relocates them to internment camps in Nevada. That’s the dystopian drama Kansas’s best-selling author, Laura Moriarty, has described in her new novel ‘American Heart’.
“I was concerned about a lot of the political rhetoric I was hearing during the presidential election,” Moriarty, associate professor at the University of Kansas, said while talking about triggers behind writing her newest novel, The Wichita Eagle reported Sunday.
“I think most people know that’s wrong and that’s not what America is about,” she said. “I wanted this book to be a celebration and a reinforcement of what I think most Americans really believe in and champion.”
When advance copies of Moriarty’s novel began circulating in 2017, much of the chatter on social media and online reviews were brutal.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that’s pretty much how I feel about ‘American Heart,’” claimed a reviewer.
“This book does a substantial disservice and harms the Muslim American community.”
The novel, published by Harper Teen, will be released this January, although copies are available now at Watermark Books in Wichita.
The furor over the novel peaked last fall when Kirkus Reviews, a well-known book review magazine, praised “American Heart” and gave it a starred review, its marker for exceptional works.
Four days later, Kirkus retracted the star and replaced the original review with a new one that says, “Sarah Mary’s ignorance is an effective worldbuilding device, but it is problematic that Sadaf is seen only through the white protagonist’s filter.”
In an online statement, Kirkus editor Clayton Smith said, “While we believe our reviewer’s opinion is worthy and valid, some of the wording fell short of meeting our standards for clarity and sensitivity, and we failed to make the thoughtful edits our readers deserve.”
Moriarty believes that much of the criticism is undeserved.
“I wrote the novel to highlight the existence of white privilege and the need for native-born Americans to acknowledge the plight of immigrants and people of color,” she said.
“I was interested in the psychology of someone who grows up in a culture with bad morality,” Moriarty said, referring to her white protagonist, who overcomes her own prejudices against Muslim Americans.
“In the book, the characters Sarah Mary and Sadaf meet … [Such meetings] are what America really is about and should be about and could be about again. This (anti-Islam) rhetoric isn’t what America stands for. We’re better than this,” Moriarty clarified.
The non-Muslim white American author wrote her book in 2016 and shopped it to publishers the week of the presidential election.
According to Moriarty, she consulted with several Muslims and immigrants of various faiths for suggestions during the writing process.
“American Heart” is Moriarty’s fifth novel. Her previous novel “The Chaperone,” was a New York Times bestseller.
Moriarty said she hopes the pre-publication controversy surrounding her new book won’t dissuade people from reading it and judging for themselves.