An American Family by Khizr Khan
Published by Penguin Random House, 271 pages, $27
Khizr Khan, a devout Muslim American citizen from Pakistan, famously condemned Donald Trump at last year’s Democratic National Convention. The Gold Star father vehemently criticized Trump’s anti-immigrant position and cited the candidate’s ignorance of the Constitution, while waving that document and electrifying the crowd. Khan, whose son Humayun died in Iraq in 2004, shares more details on his immigrant story in his new memoir, An American Family.
The oldest of 10 children born to a poor farming family in Pakistan, Khan displays extraordinary grit, curiosity, faith and hard work as a young student. He marries Ghazala—their culturally respectful courtship is charming—and moves to the U.S. with her in 1980. Living with impressive frugality, he raises three sons and earns a law degree at Harvard. He tells a story of when, strapped for money, he spent some nights sleeping on a bench on the Common.
Unlike some natural-born citizens, Khan falls in love with American freedoms—a long way from oppressive life in Pakistan—and praises examples of American generosity such as when he’s repeatedly given free places to stay.
But the most appealing part of the story is the poetic and philosophical spirit instilled in him by his Rumi-reading grandfather and the encouragement of his father as Khan seeks an education. There’s a harmony in much of Khan’s life, combining his Muslim faith and his gratitude for being American. It’s sadly ironic that his son, building on the fruits of his father’s enterprises, should die in war—and unfortunate his family became the object of Trump’s scorn.
From page 156: “Those two impulses met at Harvard, converging into a single current. I could think with my brain. I could analyze and argue. I could be abstract and counterintuitive and, if required, contrary. But what good is a brain if it is not buttressed by a heart, by a conscience? I had come from a place so different from where I’d arrived.” ◆