A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza - A review, more from my heart than my mind
My reasons to read this book were primarily two. Firstly, it was the first coming from Sarah Jessica Parker’s publication house partnering with Hogarth (SJPforHOGARTH). And secondly, when I read the synopsis I felt this was something new and fresh un-addressed before in such a subtle way. A Big Thank you to Crown Publishing for sending me a review copy.
To be honest, by the time I had started reading the book, it had already got a thumbs up from a couple of book bloggers and my anticipation and expectation both had risen up quite high. With a hyped book, there’s a fear of you not liking the book enough, which might affect the afterthoughts of reading it. But, thankfully I didn’t have much to worry about here because I really loved it. You will soon know why!
Have you ever felt that you do not belong to a place, community or belief? Questioning yourself repeatedly about it, trying hard enough to fit in but not feeling right about it? This book is everything about this and more. It is a story of a family of five residing in California, The Unites states and dealing with everything each day that a normal family deals with. Rafiq brings Layla to US after their marriage and slowly they start setting up their house and their family. Their two daughters Hadia and Huda and their son Amar are just like any other siblings in the world; fretting and fighting over small things and loving each other just the same. They have extremely varied temperaments and grow up with a different approach towards life. Amar is rather close to Hadia than Huda and looks up to her for any help or support in the family. The small instances which happen in our childhood do affect us growing up, in our behaviour. For e.g.: the father supporting the other sibling for something and denying the same to the other. Many such small incidents in the book were relatable. And, when Hadia and Amar grow up their personalities are a reflection of their childhood. In the interim of day to day activities certain saddening events take place and the story takes a grave turn; which actually kicks off the major part of the plot. Death of a dear friend and a close family member, a lost sibling, a case of young love lost, hurt and suffering is everything the book goes through. The family raises a bout of emotions when you hear each part and everyone’s perspective on some of the same circumstances. The book is about the love for your family and questioning your belonging.
For a short stint of time, roughly two years we were in California, US. And most of the times it would always weigh upon us the way we felt in a different country, not that the people weren’t warm enough or we didn’t meet enough Indians, we did and the people there are lovely and friendly but it is our heart that constantly pokes us and says- But, is this where you belong? And the answer to it always comes in a small voice- No, I don’t. It is all about fitting in and yet not believing in the fact that it’s ‘home’ for us. Having felt the same at one point of time I could relate to this family which called this place their home and still at times had to struggle to feel at home and imbibe in their children the sacred culture of their community. I raised a question to myself when I read about Amar struggling with his understanding of faith, the prayers, the belief in his parent’s God, his community and the atmosphere he was growing up in. We challenge our parent’s belief sometimes and question them but is this required of us to believe in the same. No, it isn’t. It is the belief which could take a new turn, but the love and our acts out of love for the family shouldn’t wither an ounce. And this family touches every nerve to convey the same.
I do not want to dwell on what the plot is like because from far end it will just look like a story of a family residing out of India and parents overcoming the challenges of the kids growing up. But, from inside it is much more than that. It makes you ponder over the behaviour and acts of each family member, their personalities, and their thought process, how different they are from one another and yet so bonded. And, because it is a Muslim family, not only do you get an insight of their culture and religious beliefs but you also feel for them when a sensitive topic of 9/11 is mentioned; and the fear and repercussions of the same.
I love a book more if I like a writing that is non-pretentious, sensitive, simple and yet conveying strongly what it intends to. For me, that is nothing less than an immaculate writing. The book has been put together very skilfully with not just beautiful writing but astounding presentation as well. You will see the same incident’s being explained in the book by more than one family member which I feel was really important and well-thought of, because that’s what shifts a readers perspective and you find yourself looking at that character suddenly in a different way. The characters are strong, with diverse personalities and equal importance given to all of them throughout the book. They kept me hooked and dwelled in my mind far too longer, even when I was done reading for the day. Through out the book, Rafiq comes across as an obstinate staunch father with minimal thoughts and actions put upfront . It is only in the end when you hear his perspective, and see everything through his eyes, you understand him in full light. The bond that he always wanted to form with Amar has been put in sublime words creating a pang in your heart. I couldn’t choose a favourite but I developed a soft corner for Hadia and it remained the same until the end.
Why one must read it?
To explore a different pious culture, to relate with certain principles which we often question ourselves for, to find yourself in the story and share the feelings the characters in the book feel, to know what it means to belong, to find a similar love in a way you love your own family and finally to experience a wave of emotions which will leave you satisfied when you finish reading it and you will adore the book a little more. It will tug at your heart hitting the right chords.
It is a MUST, MUST read! Absolutely beautiful. Being a debut novel from a young writer, Fatima Farheen Mirza has understood readers immensely well in crafting something so touching.