“My father moved our family to the United States because of a word. It was a word whose meaning fascinated him. It was a singularly American word, a fat word, a word that could only be spoken with decadent pride. That word was . . . Brunch! ‘The beauty of America,’ he would say, ‘is they have so much food, that between breakfast and lunch they have to stop and eat again.'” — from International House of Patel
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, stories 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.
This is a very good, short memoir. Mandvi, in his recognisable voice and style, discusses his life and career: from his early days in the UK and at private school (which he clearly didn’t enjoy — I can relate), to his family’s move to Florida (where they had brunch!), and also how he came to be a correspondent on The Daily Show. It is the story of someone who never quite fit in to where he lived, but nevertheless got on with things and conquered the obstacles that he found in his way.
The best thing about the memoir is how honest and unvarnished Mandvi is, when discussing positive and negative aspects of his past — memories of when he was contemplating his faith (or lack thereof) and his reactions to those who would presume about him and his presumptions about others. He describes the institutional racism he was confronted with on many occasions during his early career, with disappointment and frustration, and the conflict he felt in sometimes giving in to the stereotypes he was asked to portray. His recollections about when he first decided he wanted to be an actor (like the Fonz, who was so obviously better than Omar Sharif, his young self insisted…). There were some scenes and memories he lingered over that weakened the impact of what he was trying to say, while others he blitzes past quicker than I would have liked.
What struck me most, after listening to so many memoir by actors and comedians, was how Mandvi did a lot of this entirely on his own. He wasn’t getting parts, so he put on a one-man show, creating the parts and characters he wanted to play. Unlike many others, he did not grow up surrounded by future stars or people connected to the entertainment industry. His story offers hope for people who see it as too-closed, incestuous and self-reinforcing for total newcomers. (Although, I’m pretty sure it’s still those things, but also allows for some to pop into it without extensive legacies or connections.)
At a bit over four hours in length, this was just right. Entertaining, endearing, funny, and interesting. Mandvi is the ultimate TCK who did good. Recommended.