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A Place for Us: A Novel by Fatima Farheen…
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A Place for Us: A Novel (2018)

by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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4334437,455 (3.99)28
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Vanity Fair: "Ultimate Summer Fiction" Good Morning, America: "Best Books To Bring To the Beach This Summer" Glamour.com: "The 17 Best Books to Read This Summer" Refinery29: "Brilliant Books To Bring To The Beach This Summer"  USA Today: "10 Hot Books For Summer Reading" EW.com: "This Summer's Debut Authors You Need To Know Right Now" Buzzfeed: "30 Summer Books To Get Excited About" PopSugar: "16 Most Exciting New Books To Read In June" DailyBeast: "Best Summer Beach Reads" Nylon: "46 Great Books To Read This Summer"  LitHub: "Ultimate Summer Books Preview" Shondaland: "5 Brilliant New Books to Read in June" "Has a household ever been cradled in such tender attention as this novel provides? 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." -- RON CHARLES, Washington Post 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 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.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
For the first 75 pages of this read I was bored to tears. It seemed Mirza had chosen to write about the world's most boring family. In the end though, they were not that -- though they also were not the world's most interesting family.

The story was the standard Asian immigrants with first generation American kids (there are versions sent in England as well) and the culture clash as they hold on to the old ways. They live in a miasma of disappointment, everyone is in pain. The parents either alienate or trap their children into a life they don't want and no one is happy. Relationships fragment. Disappointment matures into regret. The end.

There are some books that fit this description that I love, The Namesake springs to mind, and many that are generally well-written and moderately successful at telling their stories but add nothing new or interesting, think Brick Lane. This falls somewhere in the middle but far closer to the Brick Lane end of the spectrum. The shifting timelines here were theoretically a good idea, though the childhood years up until various entanglements with the Ali family are unbelievably dull. My biggest issue was that I kept feeling like I was supposed to like Layla, but I didn't. (I do not have to like characters, in fact most of my favorite books are knee-deep in people I don't like. But Mizra tries so hard to convince the reader that Layla is a goddess, it makes it hard to get past her essential abdication of duty to actually think critically about a single thing.) She was terribly passive. She subjugated herself to the will of all around her, and she made her daughters do the same. I get that there is cultural norm guiding her, and I can empathize. The issue was that so much hinged on the writer putting Layla and her oldest daughter front and center as the moral compasses, the doers of good, the wise matriarchs. Leila was none of those things (Hadia was pretty impressive, perhaps too perfect.) Layla allowed her daughters' lives to be limited and made unhappy over and over, but spoke up loud and clear on behalf of her whiny son for every minor imagined slight. Her son never had a chance to learn he was not the center of the universe, so it is a foregone conclusion he will end up a mess. Her daughters never had a chance to see that they could be the center of the universe on occasion, so it was a foregone conclusion they would end up not knowing what they wanted or deserved, She was not a good mother to any of her children. The book spends the last third telling you she was the perfect mother and if only her husband had been more like her all would be well. That is bull. Those observations come from Rafiq (the father) in an end of book switch from 3rd to 2nd person that gives the reader Rafiq's direct testimony. This section rang a bit false. Throughout the book Rafiq is a tyrant when he is home. More often than not he is simply absent, and largely disengaged from his family. In his old age he becomes a certifiable sensitive guy filled with poignant memories of interactions with his children, long walks and star-gazing, the like of which we never saw in the first part of the book.

I liked the Romeo and Juliet story here, and I wish there had been more focus on that relationship. It was good stuff though and beautifully written. I also wished Mirza had delved into Hadia's life. We are told she regrets her choices and she is not particularly happy with where she is, despite having gotten all she wished for, but I would like to to have seen more of that life beyond her wedding, parenting and caring for her father. It is like Mirza is telling us that women only matter in their capacity as daughters, wives, sisters, and mothers. (Oh wait, that is exactly what Mirza tells us.) If they had cut 90% of children sitting alone in the dark cut off from joy and forced to wear cheap ugly clothes, and instead explored Hadia's life after the wedding, that would have been great. Also, Huda disappears entirely after the wedding, poor dear. Finding out how her childhood impacted her would have been interesting, but instead she is a meaningless middle child and all we know of her is that she is a teacher in Chicago and she has failed her parents by being infertile.

If you like dysfunctional immigrant family tales this is mostly engaging if a bit irksome. ( )
  Narshkite | Sep 19, 2019 |
I just completed this book and was so deeply moved. I loved the storyline, the evocative family saga, the richly formed characters, the excruciating intricacies of love, community, religious commitment, deep emotional connection, and shame, remorse, forgiveness. The challenges faced by a first and second generation Indian-American Muslim family were so powerfully presented that I at times had to remember to breathe. I love the whole book but the final section presented by the father was especially magnificent and heartbreaking. This book is among my favorites of this year and I look forward to reading anything this very wise and talented woman writes. ( )
  njinthesun | Aug 25, 2019 |
Beautiful book. Written for me right now. ( )
  akh3966 | Aug 13, 2019 |
Beautiful story describing the dynamics and dysfunction of a Muslim family in the US. Baba, the father and the Muslim community at large are strict guardians and enforcers of their Islamic rules and traditions.

As with most authoritarian religions this means that men decide what is expected of family members, especially the women. Women are to dress modestly, communicate with other men only when necessary, girls must avoid interacting or associating with boys or men. Housework, cooking / shopping, and child care are their domain.

Because daughters Hadia and Huda are compliant and "easier" Layla, Mumma (mother) and Baba take them for granted. Their very different energies are directed to their youngest child, the son, Amar who is more of a challenge. No matter, Layla loves him protectively, obessessively attentive to his needs and wants. Baba feels his fatherly responsibility is to guide, even push this curious, questioning, and sensitive son to obedience, and adherence to Islamic tenets.

But... because his daughters obeyed him, because he believes Layla spoils Amar, and because Amar tests his patience, he doesn't show him love, address Amar's questions. He just makes it clear how disappointed and angry he is with Amar. Amar responds in kind, and soon feels he doesn't belong in this family, or community. His behavior deteriorates, he spends more time with disreputable friends, drinks, doesn't attend religious services. The community notices and tells Layla and Rafiq, which humiliates and angers them. A terrible fight between Rafiq and Amar result in Amar's leaving home, taking a dark path.

The drama of Hadia's wedding to which Amar shows up 3 years after leaving home is disconcerting. Amar learns more about his father's life of not being close to his father, and then losing that father much too young, and having to live with his uncle. This helps him think kindly about his father. But a revelation about his mother shocks and enrages Amar. (I don't understand why Amira would at this point in time reveal this to him.) Poor kid!

As the wedding draws to a close his father finally speaks with Amar. It is obvious he is not the same man as before. It feels like they are finally opening their hearts to each other. I had hoped this might be what Amar needed to begin a reconciliation. But Amar is drunk; not fully alert. Baba needs to return to his daughter's wedding. And so this opportunity was too short.

And what occurs in the years to come, and the thoughts Baba describes about himself, the sorrow he feels because of the mistakes he made with his children are simply beautiful. It seems most of us learn unconditional love much later than we should.

Phenomenal read.
  Bookish59 | Aug 11, 2019 |
A story of family and of faith told in multiple voices. This is slow-paced, but well worth it by the end. It started out as a three star read for me for the first ¾ of the book…I liked it, but didn’t LOVE it. The last portion of the book was amazing as it brought the rest of the story together in such a skillful way. I didn’t expect it, but was so glad to find the depth of the novel that I had missed in the beginning. Highly recommend and definitely stick it out if it doesn’t grab you in the beginning. ( )
  beebeereads | Jul 27, 2019 |
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Epigraph
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
—WALT WHITMAN, “TO A STRANGER”
Dedication
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

For my parents, Shereen & Mohammed,
who taught me that love is an ever-expanding force
And for my brothers, Mohsin, Ali-Moosa, Mahdi,
who call me home
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AS AMAR WATCHED THE HALL FILL WITH GUESTS ARRIVING for his sister’s wedding, he promised himself he would stay.
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