Brown Boy is an uncompromising interrogation of identity, family, religion, race, and class, told through Omer Aziz’s incisive and luminous prose.
In a tough neighborhood on the outskirts of Toronto, miles away from wealthy white downtown, Omer Aziz struggles to find his place as a first-generation Pakistani Muslim boy. He fears the violence and despair of the world around him, and sees a dangerous path ahead, succumbing to aimlessness, apathy, and rage.
In his senior year of high school, Omer quickly begins to realize that education can open up the wider world. But as he falls in love with books, and makes his way to Queen’s University in Ontario, Sciences Po in Paris, Cambridge University in England, and finally Yale Law School, he continually confronts his own feelings of doubt and insecurity at being an outsider, a brown-skinned boy in an elite white world. He is searching for community and identity, asking questions of himself and those he encounters, and soon finds himself in difficult situations—whether in the suburbs of Paris or at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Yet the more books Omer reads and the more he moves through elite worlds, his feelings of shame and powerlessness only grow stronger, and clear answers recede further away.
Weaving together his powerful personal narrative with the books and friendships that move him, Aziz wrestles with the contradiction of feeling like an Other and his desire to belong to a Western world that never quite accepts him. He poses the questions he couldn’t have asked in his youth: Was assimilation ever really an option? Could one transcend the perils of race and class? And could we—the collective West—ever honestly confront the darker secrets that, as Aziz discovers, still linger from the past?
In Brown Boy, Omer Aziz has written a book that eloquently describes the complex process of creating an identity that fuses where he’s from, what people see in him, and who he knows himself to be.
"I was torn within myself, trying to be two people at once," writes Aziz, a lawyer and former foreign policy adviser for Justin Trudeau's administration in Canada, in this striking debut. Raised in 1990s suburban Toronto as the son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants, Aziz confesses to being an "apathetic" student before he watched then–presidential candidate Barack Obama give a speech on CNN. He was, he writes, struck by their similarities: "the immigrant father, the feeling of being stuck between worlds, the search for roots, the need to connect to something outside himself." After graduating from Cambridge University and Yale Law School, Aziz returned to Canada in 2017 and became a foreign policy adviser in the Canadian government, but after experiencing escalating microaggressions from white coworkers, he resigned "with my dignity intact." In 2021, a trip to Pakistan allowed him to reconnect with his culture: "I was reclaiming some pieces of history all for myself." Aziz maintains a sharp awareness as he confronts his "immigrant boy's need to eat pain and keep going" and celebrates his heritage ("The canvas given to me from before my birth had already been beautiful"). The result, a sterling portrait of personal revelation, cuts to the bone.