Summary and book reviews of A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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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Book Summary

The first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint, SJP for Hogarth, A Place for Us is a deeply moving and resonant story of love, identity and belonging.

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.

A deeply affecting and resonant story, A Place for Us is truly a book for our times: a moving portrait of what it means to be an American family today, a novel of love, identity and belonging that eloquently examines what it means to be both American and Muslim - and announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major new literary talent.

Excerpt
A Place For Us

As Amar watched the hall fill with guests arriving for his sister's wedding, he promised himself he would stay. It was his duty tonight to greet them. A simple task, one he told himself he could do well, and he took pride in stepping forward to shake the hands of the men or hold his hand over his heart to pay the women respect. He hadn't expected his smile to mirror those who seemed happy to see him. Nor had he anticipated the startling comfort in the familiarity of their faces. It had really been three years. Had it not been for his sister's call, he might have allowed years more to pass before mustering the courage it took to return.

He touched his tie to make sure it was centered. He smoothed down his hair, as if a stray strand would be enough to call attention, give him away. An old family friend called out his name and hugged him. What would he tell them if they asked where he had been, and how he was doing? The sounds of the shenai started up ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. How did you interpret the title of A Place for Us? Does this "place" refer to family, culture, community, or religion?
  2. Through the nuances of her writing, Fatima Farheen Mirza depicts complex, multidimensional characters. How were different sides to her characters' personalities revealed? How do you reconcile Amar's behavior with Amira with the anger and resentment he holds toward his family?
  3. Did your opinion of Rafiq change or develop as the narrative progressed? Did you become more sympathetic or understanding of the father portrayed early on in the novel when, in the final section, the novel switches to his first-person perspective?
  4. Layla at one stage advises Hadia to be mindful of the ways she treats and teases Amar, for ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (909 words).

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Media Reviews

Ron Charles, Washington Post
Absolutely gorgeous...Mirza writes about family life with the wisdom, insight and patience you would expect from a mature novelist adding a final masterpiece to her canon, but this is, fortunately, just the start of an extraordinary career…. Has a household ever been cradled in such tender attention as this novel provides?... As Marilynne Robinson has done with Protestants and Alice McDermott has done with Catholics, Mirza finds in the intensity of a faithful Muslim family a universal language of love and anguish that speaks to us all... In prose of quiet beauty and measured restraint, Mirza traces those twined strands of yearning and sorrow that faith involves. She writes with a mercy that encompasses all things.... Each time I stole away into this novel, it felt like a privilege to dwell among these people, to fall back under the gentle light of Mirza’s words.

New York Times Book Review
Ambitious… a family epic that is textured and keenly felt… Mirza draws Amar’s lifelong struggle with the concept of unconditional devotion so poignantly that readers will find it exceedingly relatable. But so too is the mysterious whisper in his ear urging him always to return, no matter how far he strays, back home.

Entertainment Weekly
“The thinking person’s summer read, a rich and layered tale about family and assimilation.

The New Yorker
[An] impassioned debut novel… Mirza is attuned to the subtle ways in which siblings and parents compete for one another's affection. A ruminative final section, in which the father addresses his wayward son, is a moving coda.

Vanity Fair
The book dives into the lives of a Muslim-American family, opening on the eve of the eldest daughter's marriage, and examines the intricacies of a family straddling two very different cultures.

Michael Schaub, NPR.org
A Place for Us is a stunning novel about love, compassion, cruelty and forgiveness — the very things that make families what they are…[Mirza’s] writing is gorgeous, unadorned but beautiful… a miracle of a book. It is a major accomplishment, a work of real beauty and fierce originality.

TIME
In polished prose that zeroes in on domestic detail and, at its loveliest, recalls Jhumpa Lahiri, Mirza delivers a portrait of a family straining to hold its center amid rebellions both quiet and explosive.

People
A rich portrait of a fractured Muslim family…With unwavering compassion, this beautiful heartbreaker unravels the mystery of who may be to blame for Amar’s estrangement.

Publishers Weekly
Mirza displays a particular talent for rendering her characters' innermost emotional lives, signaling a writer to watch.

Booklist
Each complex, surprising character struggles with faith, responsibility, racism, fear, longing, and jealousy, while Mirza conveys with graceful specificity the rhythms of Muslim life, from prayer to wearing hijab, gender etiquette, food, holidays, and values, all of which illuminate universal quandaries about family, self, culture, beliefs, and generational change.

Library Journal
Because of the structure, the time line of events is at times confusing. What Mirza does best is show how family dynamics can shape one's life and how seemingly inconsequential events can have a large impact over time.

Author Blurb Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and The Tsar of Love and Techno
A Place for Us is a radiantly envisioned, beautifully achieved epic about nearly everything that matters: love, family, faith, freedom, betrayal, contrition, absolution. Fatima Farheen Mirza is a magnificent new voice.

Author Blurb Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You
This extraordinary, piercingly wise novel examines as profoundly as any book I know the threads of injury and grace that stitch together a family. Fatima Farheen Mirza has the passionate intelligence and moral vision that announce not merely an excellent writer, but a great one. I felt such gratitude reading this fiercely compassionate debut, and such joy at discovering a voice I will follow for the rest of my life.

Author Blurb Charmaine Craig, author of Miss Burma
Fatima Farheen Mirza's A Place for Us is a radiant debut. It accretes its power, beauty, and insight through its tender witnessing of private and family life. With her deeply compassionate view, Mirza dignifies terrain often desecrated by contemporary culture: maternity, faith, the bonds of community, the yearning for goodness, and our duty to others. She shows us the destructiveness of our doubt in those we love, and the mercy of forgiveness. Most wondrously, with this felt and moving novel, Mirza creates a place in which rebellion and reverence seem to embrace.

Reader Reviews

Erica

Authentic view of life of the first and second generation immigrants
If you, your parents, your grandparents or people you know are immigrants to this country, this book will touch you on so many levels. The first generation to the country, holding on to the beliefs that make them the people they are, even if they ...   Read More

Sherri A. (Westbrook, CT)

A Need-to-Read novel
Fatima Farheem Mirza's beautiful first novel has been called a novel for our times, and I heartily agree. The way in which she weaves the story of an Indian Muslim family's gathering for a daughter's wedding with the larger tale of identity and ...   Read More

Barbara C. (Fountain Hills, AZ)

A Place For Us
I really enjoyed reading this book. The differences between cultures and the tensions created was so well defined. The characters came to life and I as the reader sympathized with each of them. I usually am not a fan of first time authors but this ...   Read More

Betty T. (Warner Robins, GA)

You will long remember this family
I am amazed that this is Ms. Mirza's first book. It is beautifully written, describing the family dynamics of a Muslim Indian-American family and their desire to remain devout to their religion and continue their cultural traditions here in the US. ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Indian Muslim Marriage Ceremonies

A Place for Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza's debut novel about a Muslim family of Indian descent, begins with a wedding. Marriage is an important part of the Muslim culture and is mandated by the Quran. While all that is required to be legally married is a simple ceremony involving the bride and groom, two Muslim witnesses and a male guardian for the bride, most Indian-Muslim marriages involve multiple highly ritualized steps, as explained by Cultural India and summarized below:

the wedding of Indian tennis player Sania Mirza and Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik The rites for becoming husband and wife typically begin at the mosque. A service is held during which the Maulvi (a religious leader or scholar) invokes a prayer (the Salatul Ishtikara) asking for Allah's consent and blessing for the marriage. At a minimum...

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