BookBrowse Reviews A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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A Place for Us

by Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza X
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 448 pages

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A stunning debut novel in which an Indian Muslim family in the United States confronts cultural and generational issues.

A whopping 62 out of 66 of our First Impression reviewers gave A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza a four- or five-star rating – for an overall average of 4.7 stars.

What it's about
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza is the story of one immigrant family trying to find a place in American society. Timely in its subject-matter and exquisitely written, the novel contains universal themes while highlighting the immigrant experience unique to Muslims (Sara L). The story opens with the wedding of the family's oldest daughter Hadia to Tariq, a modern marriage of love rather than the traditional arranged marriage. On her daughter's wedding day, mother Layla thinks back to the early days of her arranged marriage with husband Rafiq, an orphan who moved to America on his own, got a job, and established a good life for the two of them. Their three US-born children struggle with following their parents' religious and cultural practices, but the youngest, Amar, finds it especially challenging. He spends his entire life trying to find where he fits in and never truly feels that he belongs anywhere. Throughout the book Layla reflects back upon the lives of her children as they grew into adults and upon the stages of her own marriage (Betty T). This portrait of an Indian-American Muslim family, each struggling to reconcile personal choices with faith, clashing cultures, gender roles, family dynamics, and the world after 9/11, is at once engrossing, thought-provoking, heart-breaking and uplifting (Janice P).

Members remarked on the wide range of subjects explored by the author
The book encompasses such ancient themes as generational divides, father-son estrangement, patriarchal family culture and heartbreaking betrayals and misunderstandings (Ginny B). It also touches on sibling and parental relationships, gender, birth order, secrets revealed and withheld, guilt and adherence to religious restrictions (Beth B).

Readers felt the book was exceptional
A Place for Us is an amazing debut on many levels. It ticks off all the expected boxes for good fiction: it is well-written, plotted and paced and it's peopled with finely realized characters who speak with clarity and honesty. Perhaps most exciting of all is the discovery that an author so young could produce such a sure-handed, richly layered observation of the complex human condition in all its inherent beauty - and disappointments (Darra W). It is truly a beautifully written book that was a pleasure to read (Elizabeth V).

The character development was a highlight
This is a book where you really connect with and care about the characters (Beth M). They're so compelling and rich that they pull you along through a deep and complicated family history (Catherin O). I felt such empathy for them, they were fully realized and fleshed out (Cheryl S).

Many readers found it informative about Muslim culture
I was not very familiar with the culture and religion of the family portrayed in the book but I enjoyed learning more (Susan B). The parents' devout faith and their bonds within their religious community play a strong part in the story and may serve to educate some readers regarding Islam as a faith and the difficulties of raising children to be observant, particularly in this current age of intolerance and ignorance (Ginny B). I gained a tremendous amount of insight into Muslim customs and family life, but I also saw how divisive it can be trying to maintain a closed society in the midst of 21st century USA. According to your perspective the first generation born here becomes either a bridge to a different world or an ax dividing families and communities (Linda W).

The book's themes, however, are universal
The thing that impressed me most about the book is that it is the story about a family facing the problems that many of us have faced as our children form beliefs of their own which sometimes are at odds with the values and traditions that we, their parents, hold very close to our hearts. The author wrote this book about a Muslim family, but the book could have been about a Christian, Jewish, Buddhist or Mormon family (Virginia M). Many parts of the story resonated with me as a parent and sibling (DeAnn A). The more I read the more I was struck by how similar we all are (Barbara O).

A few complained about the narrative format and pacing
I was a little frustrated with the alternating flashback-present tense format. Sometimes the flashbacks went back to a younger age than the previous flashback, and I found myself underlining ages or grades in school to try and keep it straight (Rebecca R). The author's prose is littered with descriptive sentences that provide a vivid image but may or may not be germane to the action. Mirza also spends much time inside the head of her characters, switching people and time periods with little warning. These methods drag down an already slow-moving novel to a snail's pace (Patricia L).

A Place for Us is recommended to a wide audience
I am so grateful this book came into my hands, it was a wonderful reading experience and I highly recommend it to all readers (Cheryl S). This is one of the best books that I have read in years. I'm pretty stingy with my stars but I would give this book six stars if I could (Joan P). It would be an excellent book club choice as it wrestles with cultural clashes, family dynamics and individual choices (Linda W).

This review is from the June 20, 2018 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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