Monday, December 9, 2019

A Place For Us - Fatima Farheen Mirza

Summary: A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia's, wedding - a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that lead to their son's estrangement - the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children; and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from.

In a narrative that spans decades and sees family life through the eyes of each member, A Place For Us charts the crucial moments in the family's past, from the bonds that bring them together to the differences that pull them apart. And as siblings Hadia, Huda, and Amar attempt to carve out a life for themselves, they must reconcile their present culture with their parent's faith, to tread a path between the old world and the new, and learn how the smallest decisions can lead to the deepest of betrayals.

A deeply affecting and resonant story, A Place for Us is truly a book for our times: a moving portrait of what it means to be an American family today, a novel of love, identity and belonging that eloquently examines what it means to be both American and Muslim -- and announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major new literary talent. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)


My Review: You’d have to be completely clueless to not be aware that there is much discussion today about immigrants—immigrants that are coming now, immigrants that have been here for generations, immigrants who want to come…it’s obviously just a huge and pervasive part of American life. I find that it’s hard to hate people close up. Sure, it’s easy to make blanket statements and assume in one “group” is just one way, but it’s harder to maintain that belief when you actually meet the people. Whether they live in your neighborhood, go to work with you, worship with you, or you simply read about them, if you want to understand people and be a more understanding and empathetic person (whether or not this changes your belief in the political hot button of immigration) you need to be up close to them. I feel like this book is a beautiful opportunity to do just that.

This was a beautifully written book written in an interesting style. The book starts out with the present day and launches directly into what is going on at that time—a wedding—with no preamble, no explanation, no background; the reader is just dumped directly into the happenings of an Indian-American Muslim family. From there we are given a lot of back story from the various characters in the story. I’m not going to lie, at times this is confusing, especially at the beginning. As the book goes on, I figured out what was up, but it felt like a really long time before that was. The only delineation between stories is often just an extra space in between a paragraph, although sometimes there are designs to indicate that something different is going on, and then of course there are chapters. I’m sure that if you’ve read my reviews before you’ve heard my little rants about how organization is key for me—I don’t like to be confused about what’s going on or how a book is organized. There is a level of confusion that’s okay for me when it’s related to the story, but I don’t like living in a permanent state of confusion. I felt like this book did that—it was way past halfway, maybe even 2/3 of the way—before I kind of knew what was up. It is possible that my obsession for the need for organization in this manner makes my tolerance low, but still. I read a lot. This is not my first rodeo. Please organize the rodeo.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was reading about the children and how they were assimilating their parents’ culture from their previous country into the American life that they have created, and now the children are living in the present day and assimilating present day culture with the culture they grew up with. This resonated a lot with me, not because my parents are immigrants (although my grandparents are), but because I feel like this is a coming-of-age concept that is applicable to all. We all have to forge our own way—do we do things like our parents do? Do we buck the system? Do we try something different and then come back to the old way of doing things? This issue is beautifully addressed and messily resolved, just like I think happens in real life.

I really enjoyed the story and the writing of this book. Despite my issues of it not being organized how I would like it, it’s beautifully written and poignant. It’s rather long, but if your book club is into tackling those kinds of things, I think this would lead to some great discussion. I really enjoyed it, and felt myself relating to all the different characters in different ways, which doesn’t always happen. I loved that about it.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and discussion of drug use. It is mild for the genre.

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