Drama | Literature

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, Review: Accepting imperfection

Fatima Mirza’s A Place for Us explores the changing portrait of an Indian-Muslim American family, and is the first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint.
A Place For Us Book Review - Fatima Mirza

A Place for Us Synopsis:

As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made.

There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And lastly, their estranged son, Amar, who returns to the family fold for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride.

What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture? Can Amar find his way back to the people who know and love him best?

A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of this family’s life: from the bonds that bring them together, to the differences that pull them apart. All the joy and struggle of family life is here, from Rafiq and Layla’s own arrival in America from India, to the years in which their children — each in their own way — tread between two cultures, seeking to find their place in the world, as well as a path home.

A Place for Us is a book for our times: an astonishingly tender-hearted novel of identity and belonging, and a resonant portrait of what it means to be an American family today. It announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major new literary talent.

(SJP for Hogarth, June 2018)

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BOOK REVIEW

I am normally wary of hyped debut novels, but with comparisons made to Anthony Marra’s outstanding A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, I was eager to read Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A Place for Us.

Unlike many reviewers, I was not immediately absorbed by Mirza’s family narrative.  The prose itself was strikingly assured for a debut novelist but I struggled to truly engage with the characters, my personal feelings about the entrenched cultural-religious gender bias impacting their lives getting in the way.

The boys have the first few rows reserved, so that the order of the classroom may be maintained, so they cannot look at the backs of the girls in their desks and get distracted. Girls are not like boys, they are told, girls have control over their desires. It is up to the girls to do what they can to protect the boys from sin.

Many of the characters’ behaviours/actions are frustrating to an outside observer also. But to Mirza’s credit, her attention to detail and absence of sentimentality in the presentation of the different character viewpoints soon had me seeing past those differences. It is with the nuances of behaviour explored, the family dynamics, and the gravity and impact of what is often left unsaid that I engaged.

Would you believe me if I told you I hated myself more in those moments than I imagined you hated me? My pride bothered me. It was my own self I had to overcome: I could not even go to you, say to you that I was sorry, that I had overreacted.

While I cannot speak to the veracity of the cultural and religious norms portrayed, A Place for Us felt authentic and really personalised the ongoing impact of 9-11 and xenophobia more generally. What I found most moving was the characters’ acknowledgement of, and ultimately acceptance of, the imperfection in themselves and those they loved most.

A Place for Us does not proclaim to have all the answers, but what resonates strongly is that if each and every one of us broadened our thinking just a little we might find ourselves closer to them.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

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Genre: Drama, Literature

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Source: Crown Publishing Group

A Place For Us Quote - Fatima Mirza

This review counts towards my participation in the New Release Challenge 2018.

About the Author, Fatima Farheen Mirza

FATIMA FARHEEN MIRZA was born in 1991 and raised in California. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship.

  • Check out Fatima’s website and connect with her on Twitter
  • The US-born novelist on being published by the Sex and the City actor, taking off the hijab and taking up boxing, her Q&A with The Guardian

* My receiving a copy of A Place for Us from the publisher via NetGalley for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.