A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza is a heavy and thought-provoking read. The writing is excellent and there are many layers to this epic read.
I’ve always been a fast reader. But some books really do require me to slow down a bit, as is the case with A Place for Us. Instead of trying to finish this read in one-or-two days, I stretched it across several days. It’s not just the length, which is almost at 400 pages, but there is so much going on emotionally in this one.
The story starts off at an Indian wedding. We meet the parents of the bride, Rafiq and Layla, who are very traditional and religious. Both came to the U.S. from India and have raised their children in Northern California. But they weren’t prepared for how different the two cultures are and the impact on their children. The children include Hadia: the 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 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. As we read the novel, we learn why Amar is estranged. To read more about the synopsis, click here.
The story is told from multi-perspectives and jumps back and forth between several different time periods. It’s split into four parts that are all connected. In part one, we’re introduced to the characters at the wedding and learn Amar is estranged. In part two, we go back to Layla’s arrival to the U.S. and raising the children. Part three is back at the wedding, where much happens, and part four jumps forward in time. The author gives plenty of framework for why each child turned out the way they have. Personally, I felt that part II could have been shorter. The information we learn in it is very relevant but there are areas that could have been reduced.
Tradition and culture
In a sense, the reader is observing very private moments in this family’s life. I felt the family dynamic was very realistic, with all its hardships but still full of love. This one is especially interesting as it focuses on a Muslim American family, something that’s not featured often in fiction or on film. For that alone, I believe this is an important read.
This family, like so many others, struggle with tradition and culture. Rafiq and Layla want their children to have opportunity and education but won’t budge on what they see are important, traditional values. But as daughters and sons oftentimes do, the kids are independent thinkers and don’t always agree with tradition. Or, in Amar’s case, actively rebel against it.
It becomes the question of if tradition tears a family apart, what purpose is it really serving? I truly felt for the kids, especially Amar. While he’s very flawed, he’s so misunderstood. His storyline tugged at my heartstrings several different times.
Beyond religion, there’s also the subject of arranged marriages, which is not out of love but necessity and understanding between two families. This is becomes a huge plot point for both Amar and Hadia.
A Place for Us is very insightful and moving. Tradition, culture, love, family, freedom, faith and betrayal: this covers all the different layers of a family.