Book Review: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
“Layla had begun to think lately that there was no real way to quantify the goodness of a person — that religion gave templates and guidelines but there were ways it missed the mark entirely.”
I had A Place for Us on hold at my library since it was published in June, and it finally became available two weeks ago. I am so glad I was able to sneak this book in, because not only is it one of my favorites for 2018, it is also one of the best books I’ve ever read. I cannot believe this is Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel (and she is only 27!). I am normally a fast reader (possibly even a speed reader), but I purposefully took my time reading this because I wanted to savor the reading experience. A Place for Us centers around an Indian-American Muslim family living in California. The story opens at the older sister Hadia’s wedding, and her younger brother Amar has come back after no one in the family has seen him for three years. What follows is an incredible look at family, faith, and love.
A Place for Us is told in four parts. The first and third parts take place at Hadia’s wedding, while the second part flashes back to childhood memories (some great, some not so much) and are told from Hadia, Amar, and their mother Layla’s points of view. The fourth part packs a punch, but I do not want to give anything away. All I can see is that you need to read it for yourself.
Normally I am okay with a character-driven novel, but generally prefer something more plot-driven. However, A Place for Us focused way less on the plot and more on these incredible characters. I found myself curious how the seemingly prosaic flashbacks would shape this family. As the oldest child in my family, Hadia really resonated with me. Not that Amar and my brother are that much alike, but there is truth in the different dynamics for a family with a daughter as the oldest, as opposed to a son as the oldest. There were times when Hadia would have a feeling about something that I found myself remembering a similar feeling growing up.
A Place for Us also takes a fascinating look at faith. I am not that knowledgeable about the Islamic faith, and even less so about the differences between Shia and Sunni. However, you don’t need to know much about Islam going into the book because faith, rather than religion, plays a bigger part in this family’s life. The parents, Rafiq and Layla, have a different view of faith than their daughters, Hadia and Huda, and especially different from Amar’s. Part of that is because they immigrated from India and are an older generation, but it also shows how faith is such a personal thing. What works for one family member does not work for another. There was a scene that takes place a few days after 9/11 and seeing this very religious family try and navigate their faith in the aftermath was interesting, and broke my heart a little bit at the same time. I loved reading about faith in another religion than my own; it reminded me that despite the theological differences, faith can be so similar for people of all types of religions.
I remember seeing A Place for Us first advertised on Goodreads through Sarah Jessica Parker as the first book in the SJP for Hogarth imprint. While I admire SJP for many things, I was hesitant about her getting into publishing. Well I take that back now. Anne Bogel and Annie Jones both raved about this book when they read it earlier this year, and I trust their bookish opinions. So once I was finally able to pick it up and read it myself, I can see how good of an eye SJP has for incredible writers and stories. If SJP can continue to find books like Mirza’s debut, then she deserves her own imprint.
I seriously cannot rave about this book enough. It is definitely one of my all-time favorites and I hope to go back and reread it in a year or so. I know this is one I’m going to be thinking about often for a long time. If you read nothing else that I’ve recommended, I beg you to read A Place for Us. It is such a quiet, but impactful novel. I love it and give it 5 stars.
Have you read A Place for Us? What did you think?