Monday, August 27, 2018

A Place for Us

Title:  A Place for Us
Author:  Fatima Farheen Mirza
Publication Information:  SJP for Hogarth. 2018. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1524763551 / 978-1524763558

Book Source:  I received this book through Penguin First to Read free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "As Amar watched the hall fill with guests arriving for his sister's wedding, he promised himself he would stay."

Favorite Quote:  "But what I have never told any of you, never even explored within myself, is that it has been a habit, my faith, a way of living I never questioned, and once you three were born it was for you all that I adhered to it as I did. I wanted you three to grow with an awareness of God, and with that order and compass and comfort it provides, safe from dangers I could not imagine and I could not protect you from."

A Place for Us is the story of a family and the struggle between generations as children make choices that seem foreign to the parents. This book is unique for two reason - its publication and the cultural context in which it sets the story.

This book is the first novel for the SJP for Hogarth imprint, a joint endeavor between actress Sarah Jessica Parker and Molly Stern, Publisher of Crown and Hogarth. The goal is for the imprint to publish books that Ms. Parker acquires and that reflect her reading tastes. She also is the guiding vision for the editorial process. This book is also the debut novel for the author.

The cultural context of the book is its other unique feature. The family at the heart of the story is an Indian American Muslim immigrant family. The book is about the process of assimilation that immigrant families go through down the generations. Rafiq and Layla are from India. For their children, India is the land of their parents. They straddle both cultures much more so than their parents are able to. This cultural conversation adds to the already existing divide between generations in any given culture.

The plot of this book centers on the wedding Haadia, one of Rafiq and Layla's children. The wedding and Haadia's request brings home her brother, Amar who has long been estranged from the family. In between is Huda, the almost invisible middle child. The history of this family collectively and each family member's secrets come to light as the book weaves memories and flashbacks through different time period over the the course of the wedding.

The story of the book is not unusual - in life or in books. Parents have expectations and plans. Children have dreams and desires. The two often don't match. They result in conflict even though love may exist on all sides. Where conversation and respect exist, the family members find a way. Otherwise, estrangement occurs, and words are said that cannot be taken back.

What I find challenging about the book is the timeline. The book bounces back and forth to different periods of time in the family's life sometimes with no warning. It takes a while to straighten out what occurs when in a more linear fashion. It makes the book difficult to follow at times.

What I appreciate most about this book is that it writes about an Indian American Muslim family not as a statement on the American diaspora, not as a depiction of the immigrant experience, not as an overt statement of diversity but just as a family like thousands of others that are part of the fabric of America. This nation is a melting pot with diverse traditions reflecting the diverse backgrounds of our immigrants. Yet, at the end of the day, parents, children, and families face so many of the same challenges and struggles no matter what the cultural background. It seems obvious when stated, but so often, as readers and as people, we look for the differences rather than the commonalities. So, kudos to SJP for Hogarth and Ms. Mirza for presenting a family as a family not as a political statement. That is the beauty of my America. There is indeed a place for all of us.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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