A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
I finished Fatima Farheen Mirza's debut with tears streaming down my face. I can not remember the last time I have been so moved by a book. I immediately went online and ordered 5 more copies to send to my closest friends because it's THAT kind of book.... the kind of book that keeps you up at night, the kind of book that makes you call your loved ones and check in "just because", the kind of book that you want to put in to every single person's hands and implore them to stop what they are doing and read it RIGHT THIS VERY MOMENT. The fact that the author is the tender age of 26 and has worked on this story for eight years is astounding to me. Couple that with the news that the incomparable (and my forever idol) Sarah Jessica Parker selected this book as the very first novel that she would publish under her new imprint with Hogarth, and I knew going in that this would be a reading experience like no other.
Often when a celebrity lends their star power to something and buzz surrounds a book for months prior to its release, it is incredibly difficult for the work to live up to all of the expectations and the hype. I am here to tell you that A Place For Us not only lives up to the hype, it surpasses it. Sarah Jessica Parker wrote that "to be taken hostage by Fatima's heartrending and timely story is a gutting pleasure. It allows her reader to better understand what it means to reconcile one's love of family and culture with a desire to find one's own path, and one's own faith. She captures your mind and your heart with an urgency that defies you to stop reading." I think there is something in this book that will resonate with everyone -- whether you are a parent struggling with making the right decisions on how to raise your children, someone grappling with their faith and what they believe, someone striving to be good when they truly feel like all that they do is make bad choices, or a sibling trying to establish their identity separate and apart from their family... or if you are none of these things and are just a reader in search of an unputdownable story .... this book is for you. There is no way that my review can do this gorgeous work justice, but I will try and hit the highlights and attempt to convey what this story has meant to me.
The novel opens at a wedding and the reader is quickly introduced to all of the members of a Muslim Indian American family who are preparing for one of their daughters to wed. Tension is immediate among everyone present, as their long lost brother Amar returns home for the big event after being away for many years. Why did he leave? What part did everyone play in his departure? Will he stay away or has he come home seeking redemption and to once again sit at their table? The layers of this story are tenderly exposed and the reader is allowed to experience what happens with Amar through each family members eyes. As with everything in life, who we are and what we believe heavily influences our interpretation of situations and events. I loved getting the story from all angles! Fatima captures a mother's anguish over her parenting decisions perfectly. She is completely on point in the way she writes Haida, who though she loves her brother also finds herself tired of living in his "golden child" shadow. She shows off her skill once again as we also get Huda's perspective, who always felt just on the outside of the relationship that her sister Haida and Amar shared. Having the individual points of view greatly enhances the story and each character is portrayed with such authenticity it was as if I knew everyone personally.
In a stroke of genius, Fatima saves Rafiq's story for the very last. It is this perspective, of the ailing father lamenting the mistakes he has made and desperately wishing to be able to have a chance to right his wrongs, that perfectly completes the narrative and that also absolutely broke my heart. Rafiq ruled his family in a firm manner - he withheld things from his children and put the fear of God in them because he believed that was the right thing to do. He did not do it out of anger or a place of ugliness -his intentions were good - and yet still things were misconstrued and events took place that caused great pain and sorrow throughout the family. It is Rafiq's story that still lingers with me after all this time.... there are so many lines that moved me...once I hit page 165, I took notes and highlighted something on almost every single page. I had originally planned to list all of my favorite quotes here. However, I want you to experience them within the context of the story and have your breath taken away as mine was. I want you to feel the tears hot on your cheeks as Fatima's words resonate with you and you think about your own family dynamics and relationships. For in the end, this book and it's gorgeously flawed characters are a reflection of all of us... we all search for that safe place where we can be our true selves and feel a sense of belonging. And we all hold out hope that when the day comes and we take our last breath, we will look up and see those loved ones who have gone before us. And they will open their arms wide, smile at us and say "ah my child, I have waited for you", and we will walk hand in hand together through the gate.
Huge thank you to Hogarth Publishing for sending me an advanced gifted copy of this stunning work. All the stars for this exquisite masterpiece.