A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza published in 2018.
“A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding – a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that lead to their son’s estrangement – the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children; and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from. In a narrative that spans decades and sees family life through the eyes of each member, A Place For Us charts the crucial moments in the family’s past, from the bonds that bring them together to the differences that pull them apart. And as siblings Hadia, Huda, and Amar attempt to carve out a life for themselves, they must reconcile their present culture with their parent’s faith, to tread a path between the old world and the new, and learn how the smallest decisions can lead to the deepest of betrayals.”
This is the first book released under Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint, and I don’t think she could have chosen a better debut novel.
This book is divided into four parts. The first part opens up with the wedding of Haida, Layla and Rafiq’s oldest child. Immediately there is tension between the family due to Amar, the youngest in the family, making an appearance after running away three years prior. The second, and by far longest, part takes us back and explains exactly why Amar left, which has a lot to do with his relationship with his strict father. The third part goes back to Haida’s wedding, the reader now having the knowledge of everything that’s happened in the past. Finally, the fourth and in my opinion, the best part, we explore all the past stories that were told in the prior parts of the novel from the fathers perspective. Here, we learn that the hardened exterior that his children witnessed throughout their childhood may have just been a façade for the emotions that he was unsure of how to handle.
The majority of books that I read are very plot centred, and when I say that I mean my main motivation to continue reading is to find out how the plot is going to develop. A Place for Us is a rare exception where I continued reading solely for the characters and how they would continue to develop. I had a genuine interest in all of their lives and really wanted the best for them, almost as if I knew them in real life. Whether you yourself can strongly relate to the characters, each member of the family is portrayed so flawlessly imperfect in such a realistic and authentic manner that you’ll find yourself immensely caring for them.
The novel started off a bit slow for my liking, yet others might view this as a leisurely plot. As I mentioned above part two was the longest, since it covered the better part of the family’s troubles. Yet I felt that some parts dragged on and could have benefited from a bit of light editing. The pace did pick up significantly around part three when family secrets were revealed and past endeavours were exposed. Another small detail that irked me was the transitioning between perspectives so freely. The main point of views switched between Hadia, Amar and Layla, also altering between different periods of their life. Since it was not apparently clear when the POV’s were switching, I was confused and found myself backtracking to figure out whose perspective I was witnessing the story from. These are minor complaints though that can be worked through quite easily.
Mirza, despite being so young, possesses such a unique wisdom and gracefulness about family, religion and culture. Even better, she managed to masterfully weave these together to create the heartbreakingly real narrative of a modern Muslim family living in America. She touches upon the impact of 9/11 as well as the more recent political glutton that is President Trump. The pressures of devoting yourself to religion is what creates the gap between Amar and his father, something I’m sure must be common nowadays. Both the beautiful and cruel aspects of faith are highlighted in this timeless story.
Part four was by far my favourite. Anyone knows that I’m a sucker for the character trope of the strict and hardened authority figure concealing their true emotions, mainly because they don’t know how to express their true emotions. This Rafiq in a nutshell. Throughout the entire novel, the reader saw him through the lens of his children and wife as the uncompromising leader of the family, but part four allows us a glimpse into his mind. Here, we see him struggling to find a balance between his love of Islam and the love of his family, not to mention his almost palpable desperation to connect with his estranged son. It was beautifully written and the perfect way to end this novel.
A Place for Us has the potential to translate so well into a diverse array of cultures and religions. The raw emotions portrayed by Mirza are applicable to each and every one of us. If you’re still unsure about picking up this book, I’ll endorse it for the same reason that I recommended The Hate U Give; if you can’t find something to relate to in this, you’ll definitely find something that you can learn from it.