Saturday, May 26, 2018

Book Review: "A Place for Us" by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Poignant, warm, and thought-provoking, A Place for Us is a tremendously self-assured look at an American Muslim family, and the obligations and tangles that family and religion create.

Family and friends of Rafiq and Layla gather for the wedding of their oldest daughter, Hadia, who has broken tradition by marrying for love and not marrying a match arranged by her parents.

Hadia has always been headstrong, but she has made her parents proud by becoming a doctor, again, not a choice usually made by Muslim daughters. At Hadia's side as always is her younger sister, Huda, dutiful and proud, always looking to keep the peace, which is a quality necessary for her job as a teacher.

While the family is a bit nervous because of the wedding, the tension is increased because Hadia has invited her youngest sibling, their brother Amar, to the wedding. No one has seen him in three years. As the only boy, he was favored, but he was more sensitive, demanding, difficult, and always knew how to provoke feelings of love and dissension among his family members. Hadia wants him to attend the wedding but is also afraid of what unresolved issues he may bring with him.

How did the family get to this point? The book spends a great deal of time looking back, from the days before Rafiq and Layla married and their young family grew, to the days where the challenges began. It is a fascinating exploration of how the most innocent of actions or intentions can go spectacularly awry, and how one decision can cause significant ripples which affect many people. The book also moves beyond the wedding, looking at the aftereffects of events that happened that night.

The majority of the book alternates the narration between Layla, Hadia, and Amar, while later chapters are also narrated by Rafiq. You see the same events through different eyes, what those moments meant, and how they shape events around them. Within each chapter, there are recollections of various events at different times, so it does get a bit confusing trying to determine the time and place of what you're reading.

I found A Place for Us so emotionally rich, a fascinating study of a family struggling with how to reconcile the traditions and beliefs of their religion with the needs and wants of the ever-changing world, particularly post-9/11. All too often there was a depth to the characters I didn't initially expect—just when I believed a character was acting a particular way for a reason, with a different perspective, my assumptions were flipped.

I thought this was a terrific book, truly a self-assured literary debut by Fatima Farheen Mizra. I honestly never understood much about Muslim families beyond what I've seen on television and in movies, so I welcomed this opportunity to learn more. This book made me realize once again that no matter how different two families may be, the issues they face are often quite similar.

NetGalley, Crown Publishing Group, and SJP for Hogarth provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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