A Place for Us (Mirza)

A Place for Us 
Fatima Farheen Mirza, 2018
Crown/Archetype
400 pp.
ISBN-13:
9781524763558


Summary
A deeply moving and resonant story of love, identity and belonging

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. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—1991
Where—San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA
Education—B.A., University of California-Riverside; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop
Currently—N/A


Fatima Farheen Mirza was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Her mother is of a British-Indian family, growing up in Birmingham, England; her father is from Hyderabad, India. Mirza did her undergradute work at the University of California-Riverside and received her M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop where she was a Teaching-Writing Fellow. A Place for Us is her first novel. (Adapted from the publisher.)

Read the author interview in The Guardian.



Book Reviews
Ambitious.… [A] family epic that is textured and keenly felt… Mirza draws Amar’s lifelong struggle with the concept of unconditional devotion so poignantly that readers will find it exceedingly relatable. But so too is the mysterious whisper in his ear urging him always to return, no matter how far he strays, back home.
Lauren Christenson - New York Times Book Review


Absolutely gorgeous.… Mirza writes about family life with the wisdom, insight and patience you would expect from a mature novelist.… In prose of quiet beauty and measured restraint, Mirza traces those twined strands of yearning and sorrow that faith involves. She writes with a mercy that encompasses all things.… Each time I stole away into this novel, it felt like a privilege to dwell among these people, to fall back under the gentle light of Mirza’s words.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


An affecting, authentic and artful debut by Fatima Farheen Mirza.… Mirza's writing is poignantly beautiful.…By the end of the novel, readers may wish that some characters had spoken up at critical junctures and that other characters had swallowed the words that irreparably altered the course of events. That we become so invested is a testament to Mirza's talent.
Associated Press


A Place for Us is a stunning novel about love, compassion, cruelty and forgiveness—the very things that make families what they are…[Mirza’s] writing is gorgeous, unadorned but beautiful.… [A] miracle of a book. A Place for Us is a major accomplishment, a work of real beauty and fierce originality.
Michael Schaub - NPR.org


In polished prose that zeroes in on domestic detail and, at its loveliest, recalls Jhumpa Lahiri, Mirza delivers a portrait of a family straining to hold its center amid rebellions both quiet and explosive.
Time


The book dives into the lives of a Muslim-American family, opening on the eve of the eldest daughter's marriage, and examines the intricacies of a family straddling two very different cultures.
Vanity Fair


A rich portrait of a fractured Muslim family…With unwavering compassion, this beautiful heartbreaker unravels the mystery of who may be to blame for Amar’s estrangement.
People


This is a richly detailed, immersive saga that hooks you from the jump and keeps you absorbed even as you spend decades with its characters. A Place for Us is a tender examination of identity and familial roles, of faith, and of what it means to be home.
Marie Claire


Bonds of faith and family strengthen and strangle in this promising but flawed debut, set in a close-knit Indian Muslim community in California.… Mirza displays a particular talent for rendering her characters' innermost emotional lives, signaling a writer to watch.
Publishers Weekly


[A]n American Muslim family in California…. Because of the structure, the time line of events is at times confusing. What Mirza does best is show how family dynamics can shape one's life and how seemingly inconsequential events can have a large impact over time. —Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis
Library Journal


[T]he warring forces are not two families but one, split by the tension between reverence and rebellion. The author's passion for her subject shines like the moon in the night sky, a recurrent image in this ardent and powerful novel.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. How did you interpret the title of A Place for Us? Does this "place" refer to family, culture, community, or religion?

2. Through the nuances of her writing, Fatima Farheen Mirza depicts complex, multidimensional characters. How were different sides to her characters’ personalities revealed? How do you reconcile Amar’s behavior with Amira with the anger and resentment he holds toward his family?

3. Did your opinion of Rafiq change or develop as the narrative progressed? Did you become more sympathetic or understanding of the father portrayed early on in the novel when, in the final section, the novel switches to his first-person perspective?

4. Layla at one stage advises Hadia to be mindful of the ways she treats and teases Amar, for his childhood experiences will impact the rest of his life. Layla warns, "One day the joke will not be funny. If you always leave him out, if you always tease him and hurt his feelings, soon you will not know how to be any other way with him, and it will affect his personality. Your relationship. For his whole life, and the rest of yours." Can you recall any moments from Amar’s early years that affected his personality or the course of his adult life?

5. From a young age, Amar fears that he has a "black stain" on his soul. What do you think was the root cause of this fear? Why do you think he questions his own inherent goodness, and how does self-doubt affect his behavior?

6. Hadia comes to see the watch she received from Rafiq, an heirloom that was her grandfather’s, as a symbol of the competition between herself and Amar. How might the watch also be symbolic of their complex relationships with their father?

7. How did you interpret other recurring images or symbols in A Place for Us, for instance, the moon, Layla’s garden, or the black box that Amar received as a birthday gift?

8. In his late teenage years, Amar strives to prove himself as a worthy partner for Amira Ali, deserving of her parents’ approval. Where else did you see characters behave in certain ways, compromising their desires and making major life decisions, to please their family and community? How did this affect their personal happiness?

9. When her children speak English instead of Urdu, Layla fears that they will gradually lose touch with their heritage. As they moved toward adulthood, how did Hadia and Huda depart from certain aspects of their culture? What others did they uphold? You might consider rituals, customs, or gender roles.

10. At Hadia’s wedding, Amira mentions that her brother, Abbas, had been a "moral compass" for her parents. What lessons did you see children teach their parents (and grandparents) in A Place for Us?

11. Toward the end of the novel, Rafiq admits with regret that, as a result of his rigid religious practice and strict adherence to rules, he had failed to impart to his family an understanding of God’s kindness and mercy. How do you think his relationship with Amar would have changed or improved if he had come to this realization when his children were young?

12. Were you angry with Amar for leaving his parents and sisters, or were his actions justified? Did you blame Rafiq, Layla, or even Hadia, for contributing to Amar’s decision to move away from home and cut off communication with the family?

13. In the final section, Rafiq expresses his fear that his grandchildren will experience the effects of racist hate and violence, which Amar had been exposed to in school. Do you think that A Place for Us, depicting the personal lives of a Muslim family in America, has an important social message?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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