A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
As an Indian family gathers for Hadia, the eldest sister’s wedding, parents Layla and Rafiq reflect on raising their children – what happened, what they wish they could take back, did they do their best?
This literary fiction novel announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major literary talent. FOR REAL. I marveled at Mirza’s ability to write from four different points of view without ever announcing who was speaking or from what time period – you just got it.
I grew up in the suburbs of Omaha, Nebraska. Next door lived the Huqs from Bangladesh. They were Muslim, we were Christian. The mothers of both families traded stories over watering the hostas in the garden. Kea Huq was strikingly beautiful with her long straight dark hair and beautiful salwars. She made her tiny gold nose ring incredibly classy. Of her arranged marriage, my mother asked, “Did you love him?” Kea answered, “Of course I did. He was my husband.” It’s been a lesson for us, I tell you.
In A PLACE FOR US, Hadia has balked Indian tradition and is marrying for love, though he is still a muslim and a man of Indian descent. Even with many personal cultural and religious differences, I found myself relating to so much of the thoughts and feelings of tradition, home, and belonging.
Amar is the youngest child and only son. He’s different. He just can’t do it right. He’s not as naturally school smart, dreams of being an artist, has a penchant for always pushing the envelope, wonders if there is even a God, and eventually turns to substances to cope. His mother and sisters are his protectors. His father loves him but doesn’t know how to deal with such a son. He has a temper.
There are secrets, there are betrayals, there is guilt that is hard to let go of. This is the story of every family, but told from a very unique point of view. I loved it.
By the end, Rafiq is sick. He’s an old man holding his arms out for his youngest child to come home. Will his beloved Amar ever return? Is there really a home for each of us to return to?
This story is a love story on many levels – between a husband and wife, between Hadia and Abbas who dies young, between Hadia and her chosen husband, and between Amar and the beautiful Amira who loves Amar but cannot watch him self-destruct – yet longing to be with him anyway.
There’s also the great love story of how much a mother and a father love their children, even when they cannot say it out loud. The mother, Layla thinks, “She was stunned and stunned again by them, and her love for them. How much had been lost? Never made it into her memory, never been captured in a photograph?”
Oh, my heart.
I read this book more slowly than I usually read, forcing myself to slow down and enjoy each sentence – you’ll want to. The writing is at once reflective, aching, and beautifully constructed.
Half the pages of my book are turned down so I can go back and reread sentences – aspiring and inspired to write as wondrously as Mirza does.
Have I convinced you? Read this book. It’s tremendous.