Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A Place for Us will Give you the Best Book Hangover
25th June, 2018
Layla and Rafiq have started a new life in America. They have three children – Hadia, Huda and Amar. We trace the children’s lives from childhood to adulthood until Amar decides to leave the family.
This book was everywhere! A Place for Us is the first novel to be published by Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint for Hogarth and garnered lot of hype. I was keen to read the debut that was making waves even before publication. Ten pages into the book on a busy evening, I knew for sure it was a promising read to be savoured and enjoyed at leisure. And that is just what I did – put the book aside, came back to it when I had more time and hand and devoured it with the hunger that readers have for great reads.
Not stereotypical but heart warming
The story begins with Hadia’s marriage where we learn she is getting married to the man she loves. But there is a suffocating sense of discomfort in the air. The prodigal son of the family, Amar, has come to attend the wedding after not being in touch for many years. The novel takes off with this mysterious shroud. Slowly the history of what leads to that moment unfolds.
The wedding scene reminded me so much of the opening scene of Salt Houses by Hala Alyan. But both books are very different from one another. A Place for us is steeped in family, sibling relationships and the fear that our silliest actions might have unexpected, tragic consequences. The novel also sheds light on the Islamophobia that took off after 9/11, pressure to be academically brilliant in immigrant families, the difference in faith and culture across different generations, varying expectations from men and women in some families and regrets. Another clever play of theme was the sense of belonging – how alienated one might feel at one’s own home or how we seem to belong in a place we never thought we could. It was refreshing to read a book with no stereotypes attached to the characters, and that is definitely a win.
The characters are brilliantly sketched and delicately flawed which adds to the beauty of the novel and renders the reader helpless. The family was believably real and slightly dysfunctional yet bound together as a unit. All characters were well developed, except perhaps the second sister, Huda. Amar was likeable and unlikeable at the same time and one keeps wondering if we can blame him at all for the way his life turned out. I loved the comparisons between Layla’s life and her daughters’ based on their upbringing. It was interesting to delve into the mysterious Rafiq’s internal conflicts and his disconnect with the rest of his family. A passage I found particularly touching was Layla’s lament about how all her children turned out to be so different from one another when she had brought them all up in the same way. Or had she? That is for the reader to decide because only we know the whole story while the characters have only a partial idea of their situation.
Shifting time lines
The narrative jumps back and forth in the timeline and probably this was my biggest and only problem with the book. These time jumps often took place in a span of paragraphs in the same chapter. Such a style of writing has worked very well in Arundhati Roy’s God of small things but I found it disorienting in A Place for Us. However, Fatima is a gifted storyteller and handled the multiple POVs well, so she does justice to the characters in the book, which was a joy to read.
Final Verdict :
I loved the book. It is a slow burning family drama that makes the feel like a part of the household. A noteworthy debut of 2018 and certainly an excellent starter novel by SJP for Hogarth.
Title : A Place for Us
Author : Fatima Farheen Mirza
Publisher : SJP for Hogarth
Language : English
Pages : 385
Rating : 4/5
Disclaimer : Much thanks to the publisher for an ARC of the book. All opinions are my own.
What other debuts of 2018 have caught your eye?