A place for us A novel

Fatima Farheen Mirza, 1991-

Book - 2018

A story of family identity and belonging follows an Indian family through the marriage of their daughter, from the parents' arrival in the United States to the return of their estranged son.

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FICTION/Mirza, Fatima
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Subjects
Genres
Domestic fiction
Published
New York : SJP for Hogarth [2018]
Language
English
Main Author
Fatima Farheen Mirza, 1991- (author)
Edition
First United States edition
Physical Description
385 pages ; 25 cm
ISBN
9781524763565
9781524763558
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

HEAVY: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon. (Scribner, $16.) Laymon's profound memoir reflects on his childhood in Jackson, Miss., and shows how his pursuit of excellence was a means to survive. Touching on everything from the racism he encountered to the physical and sexual abuse he endured, Laymon compares his childhood memories with how he feels in middle age, and offers a complex, nuanced portrayal of his mother. CONFESSIONS OF THE FOX, by Jordy Rosenberg. (One World, $17.) Rosenberg's novel is a heady romp through an 18thcentury England awash in sex, crime and revolutionary ideas. When Dr. Voth, the principal narrator, finds a mysterious manuscript at a book sale, the novel expands to tell the story of Jack Sheppard and Bess Khan, notorious thieves and jailbreakers in London, and their high jinks. FLY GIRLS: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History, by Keith O'Brien. (Mariner, $15.99.) Amelia Earhart wasn't the only female pilot to take to the skies in the 1920s, this lively new account shows, but many have been overlooked. In addition to Earhart, the book focuses on Ruth Nichols, Louise Thaden, Ruth Elder and Florence Klingensmith. As O'Brien puts it, "Each of the women went missing in her own way." DO THIS FOR ME, by Eliza Kennedy. (Broadway, $16.) Raney Moore thought she had the perfect life. A lawyer at a top-flight Manhattan law firm, she is the mother of charming teenagers and happily married. But when she discovers her husband is having an affair, she torches their life together - canceling his credit cards, deleting his email account and shipping his belongings to his mother's house - and must determine the future she wants for herself. It's an exhilarating, if over-the-top, novel of divorce. THE MARSHALL PLAN: Dawn of the Cold War, by Benn Steil. (Simon & Schuster, $20.) Steil, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, untangles the complicated politics that led to America's intervention in Europe, and focuses on the debate over the continent's economic future. Our reviewer, Timothy Naftali, praised the book's handling of "a large cast of statesmen, spies and economists that perhaps only Dickens could have corralled with ease." A PLACE FOR US, by Fatima Farheen Mirza. (SJP for Hogarth, $17.) In this debut novel, an Indian Muslim family gathers for the eldest daughter's wedding, and sets up a longawaited reunion with an estranged sibling. Mirza's book follows generations of the family as they navigate their lives in India and the United States, weathering racism, betrayals and crises of faith.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [July 11, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

Mirza's debut novel, extraordinary in its depth and diligence, is also the first title in the new SJP for Hogarth imprint, under the editorial direction of actor, producer, designer, and ALA Book Club Central's honorary chair, Sarah Jessica Parker. Mirza's slow-brewing, affecting, California-set tale portrays a splintered Muslim Indian family in which immigrant parents Layla and Rafiq try to maintain Islamic traditions. Their daughters are intent on pleasing their strict, religious father; Hadia becomes a doctor, Huda a teacher. But their son, Amar, is born rebellious. Hungry for life, poetic, wily, and charming, he breaks taboos, takes risks, and is ultimately betrayed by those closest to him. As Hadia's wedding triggers extended flashbacks while driving the story forward, Mirza adeptly revisits painful dilemmas from each narrator's perspective, revealing jolting secrets. Each complex, surprising character struggles with faith, responsibility, racism, fear, longing, and jealousy, while Mirza conveys with graceful specificity the rhythms of Muslim life, from prayer to wearing hijab, gender etiquette, food, holidays, and values, all of which illuminate universal quandaries about family, self, culture, beliefs, and generational change.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2018 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Bonds of faith and family strengthen and strangle in this promising but flawed debut, set in a close-knit Indian Muslim community in California. The story opens with the wedding of Hadia, golden child of Layla and Rafiq and older sister to Huda and Amar, skillfully setting up the central tension: why has Amar, the troubled youngest, been absent from the family, and can he be drawn back? The plot then shuffles backward and forward, revisiting plot points with few signposts to let the reader know when exactly key events-an untimely death, the snuffing out of a forbidden relationship, a family-rupturing fight-take place. Perspective alights on various characters, revealing more about some than others; middle child Huda remains nearly opaque, and early references to Rafiq's violent temper are all but dropped. For the final 80 pages, Rafiq narrates, and the story at last coheres. He delivers a heartrending reflection on his role in his son's partly self-imposed banishment: "It is in these moments that the fabric of my life reveals itself to be an illusion: thinking that I am fine, we all are, that we could grow around your loss like a tree that bends around a barrier or wound." Mirza displays a particular talent for rendering her characters' innermost emotional lives, signaling a writer to watch. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

DEBUT Mirza's first novel, which launches Sarah Jessica Parker's new imprint with Hogarth, follows an American Muslim family in California, and in particular the divergent paths of eldest daughter, Hadia, and youngest child, Amar. Hadia excels in academics and is in most ways "the perfect daughter," but as she reaches adulthood, she forges her own path, pursuing a career in medicine rather than accepting marriage proposals. Amar struggles throughout his life, particularly with his faith. His inability to be the son his father expects leads him to alcohol, drugs, and estrangement. The majority of the story is told nonchronologically from the perspectives of Hadia, Amar, and their mother, Layla. The final section, the only part told in first person, is narrated by the father, Rafiq, and is an extremely moving meditation on parental love for a difficult child. Throughout, Mirza subtly poses the question: "What does it mean to be a Muslim in 21st-century America?" VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, 1/8/18.]-Christine -DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by School Library Journal Review

Layla and Rafiq are traditional Muslim Indians. After their arranged marriage in Hyderabad, young Layla joins Rafiq in northern California, where they immerse themselves in their mosque and its community and start their family. They do their utmost to raise their children in strict adherence to their faith. Mirza writes eloquently about the parents' choices and their children's subsequent struggles to straddle two cultures and assimilate. Daughters Hadia and Huda navigate life with Islamic constrictions much more successfully than their younger brother Amar. For Amar, there are too many contradictions, and from early childhood, he questions and rebels. In turn, his parents ramp up their restrictions and their disapproval, creating a downward spiral for Amar as the family is slowly but surely torn apart by cultural conflicts and misunderstandings. Teen readers will appreciate Hadia and Huda and will empathize, commiserate, and identify with the beleaguered Amar. Written alternately from each character's perspective, the narrative moves back and forth in time (sometimes confusingly), with Hadia's wedding the anchoring event. The writing is delicate, evocative, and intense but accessible. VERDICT Teens who enjoy powerful family dramas such as Mitali Perkins's You Bring the Distant Near and rebellion stories like Erika L. Sanchez's I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter will love this gripping and bittersweet tale.-Gretchen Crowley, formerly at Alexandria City Public Libraries, VA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

An American Muslim family is torn apart in the struggle between tradition and modernity."The wedding was coming together wonderfully. People were arriving on time. There was a table for mango juice and pineapple juice and another for appetizers, replenished as soon as the items were lifted from the platter. White orchids spilled from tall glass vases on every table." But down the hall at the hotel bar, there is an element of this wedding that is not coming together so smoothlythe prodigal brother of the bride. Amar ran away from home years earlier after a series of escalating troubles in high school, rooted in a forbidden romance between him and Amira Ali, the daughter of a prominent local family. Their connection became only more intense when Amira's older brother, a close friend of Amar's, was killed in a car accident. The novel moves back and forth in time to explore the story of parents Layla and Rafiq and their three children, Hadia, Huda, and Amar. The events of 9/11, the temptations of drugs and alcohol, the pressure for academic achievement, and the traditions of arranged marriage all play a role. It is Hadia, the bride, who has reached out to her brother and begged him to attend her wedding, but when he sees his one-time love Amira among the guests, old secrets and betrayals bubble to the surface. Unfortunately, as the story rolls back and forth through the chronology and the perspectives of the different family members, the conflicts are rehashed too many times and at too much length. The debut of 26-year-old Mirza is the first book from Sarah Jessica Parker's imprint at Hogarth; it explores the spiritual lives of its characters with sympathy and passion. The title of the book echoes a song from West Side Story, itself a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Here the 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. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

As Amar watched the hall fill with guests arriving for his sister's wedding, he promised himself he would stay. It was his duty tonight to greet them. A simple task, one he told himself he could do well, and he took pride in stepping forward to shake the hands of the men or hold his hand over his heart to pay the women respect. He hadn't expected his smile to mirror those who seemed happy to see him. Nor had he anticipated the startling comfort in the familiarity of their faces. It had really been three years. Had it not been for his sister's call, he might have allowed years more to pass before mustering the courage it took to return. He touched his tie to make sure it was centered. He smoothed down his hair, as if a stray strand would be enough to call attention, give him away. An old family friend called out his name and hugged him. What would he tell them if they asked where he had been, and how he was doing? The sounds of the shenai started up to signal the commencement of Hadia's wedding. Suddenly the hall was brought to life and there, beneath the golden glow of the chandeliers and surrounded by the bright colors of the women's dresses, Amar thought maybe he had been right to come. He could convince them all--the familiar faces, his mother who he sensed checking on him as she moved about, his father who maintained his distance--he could even convince himself, that he belonged here, that he could wear the suit and play the part, be who he had been before, assume his role tonight as brother of the bride. *** It had been Hadia's decision to invite him. She watched her sister Huda get ready and hoped it had not been a mistake. That morning Hadia had woken with her brother on her mind and all day she willed herself to think as other brides must--that she would be using the word husband when speaking of Tariq now, that after years of wondering if they would make it to this moment, they had arrived. What she had not even dared to believe possible for her was coming true: marrying a man she had chosen for herself. Amar had come as she had hoped. But when she was shocked at the sight of him she realized she never actually believed he would. Three years had passed with no news from him. On the day she told her parents she would invite him she had not allowed herself to pray, Please God, have him come, but only, Please God, let my father not deny me this. She had practiced her words until her delivery was so steady and confident any onlooker would think she was a woman who effortlessly declared her wishes. Huda finished applying her lipstick and was fastening the pin of her silver hijab. She looked beautiful, dressed in a navy sari stitched with silver beadwork, the same sari that a handful of Hadia's closest friends would be wearing. There was an excitement about her sister that Hadia could not muster for herself. "Will you keep an eye on him tonight?" Hadia asked. Huda held her arm up to slip rows of silver bangles over her wrist, each one falling with a click. She turned from the mirror to face Hadia. "Why did you call him if you didn't want him to come?" Hadia studied her hands, covered in dark henna. She pressed her fingernails into her arm.    "It's my wedding day."           An obvious statement, but it was true. It did not matter if she had not heard from her brother in years, she could not imagine this day without him. But relief at the sight of Amar brought with it that old shadow of worry for him. "Will you call him here?" Hadia said. "And when he comes, will you give us a moment alone?" She returned Huda's gaze then. And though Huda looked briefly hurt, she didn't ask Hadia to share what she was, and always had been, excluded from. *** As she glided between guests and stopped to hug women she had not yet greeted, it occurred to Layla that this was what she might have pictured her life to look like once, when her children were young and she knew who her family would contain but not what life would be like for them. She walked with a straight back and careful smile and felt this event was hers as much as it was her daughter's. And Amar was nearby. She looked to him between conversations, tracked his movement across the hall, checked his face for any discomfort.    The wedding was coming together wonderfully. People were arriving on time. There was a table for mango juice and pineapple juice and another for appetizers, replenished as soon as the items were lifted from the platter. White orchids spilled from tall glass vases on every table. Little golden pouches of gifts waited on each seat for guests to claim. Huda had helped Layla make them and they had stayed awake late in the night, singing a little as they filled each one with almonds and various chocolates, tugging the golden string to seal them. The hall was grand--she had chosen it with Hadia months ago--and as she walked beneath its arches into the main hall she was pleased with her decision. It had been dimmer when they first saw it, but now it looked like the set of a movie, high ceilings and every chandelier twinkling so bright they seemed to compete with one another to illuminate the room. Men looked sharp in their dark suits and sherwanis, women dressed so that every shade of color was represented, light reflecting off of their beadwork and threadwork. Layla wished her parents had been alive to see it. How proud they would be, how happy to attend the wedding of their first grandchild. But tonight even their absence could not dull all she had to be grateful for, and beneath her breath she continued to repeat, God is Great. God is Great, and all thanks are to Him. Just an hour earlier she had helped Hadia into the heavy kharra dupatta, whispered prayers as she clasped safety pins in place. Hadia had not spoken as Layla moved about her, only thanked her once, quietly. She was nervous, as any bride would be, as Layla herself had been years ago. Layla adjusted the outfit's pleats, hooked a teekah into Hadia's hair, and stepped back to take in the sight of her daughter. All her intricate henna. Her jewelry catching light. The swoop of dark hair that peeked beneath her dupatta, that particular and deep red. Now she searched the crowd for her son. It felt unfathomable that just days ago she still had trouble sleeping when the darkness called forth her unsettling fears. In the daylight she could reassure herself that it was enough to see her son's face in the photographs she saved, hear his voice in the family videos she watched--Amar on a field trip she had chaperoned, his excitement when the zookeeper lifted up a yellow python, how his hand was the first to shoot into the air, asking to touch it. It was enough so long as she knew he was still out there, heart beating, mind moving in the way she never understood. This morning she had woken to a home complete. Before her children could rise she took out sadqa money for them, extra because it was a momentous day, then more, to protect from any comment about her son's return in a tone that could threaten its undoing. She drove to a grocery store and stocked the fridge with food Amar enjoyed: green apples and cherries, pistachio ice cream with almonds, cookies with the white cream center. All the snacks she once scolded him for. Was she cruel to feel more happiness, greater relief, at his return, than for her daughter on the day he had come back for? Before Rafiq left to oversee arrangements in the hall--the tables brought in, golden bows tied to the chairs, the setting of the stage where Hadia and Tariq would sit--Layla climbed the stairs to their bedroom, where he was getting ready. " Suno, " she said, "will you listen? Can you not say anything that will anger or upset him? She always found ways to speak around her husband's name. First it was out of shyness and then it was out of custom and a deep respect for him, and now it would be unnatural; she felt obliged to avoid his name out of habit. He paused buttoning his shirt and looked at her. It was her right. She had not interfered with his decisions for so long. She pressed on, "Please, for me, can you stay away from him tonight? We can speak tomorrow, but let us have this day." The previous night, when Amar first arrived, the two of them had been amicable. Rafiq had said salaam before Layla took over and guided Amar to his bedroom, heated him a plate of dinner. For a moment, she wondered if she had hurt Rafiq. Carefully he clasped the button at each wrist. "I will not go near him, Layla," he said finally, dropping his arms to his sides. *** When he met his father's eyes from across the crowded hall, Amar understood that an agreement had been made between them: they knew who they were there for, and why they would not approach one another beyond the expected salaam. Amar looked away first. He still felt it. His anger, and the distance it caused. It was as if something had clenched in him and could not now be loosened. Amar had played a game during the first few conversations when asked what he had been doing lately. A painter, he said to one guest, of sunsets and landscapes. The look on their faces amused him. To another uncle he said engineer but was annoyed by how it impressed him. Once he said he was pursuing an interest in ornithology. When the man blinked back at him he explained. Birds, I would like to study birds. Now he spoke without embellishment. He excused himself from conversations shortly after they began. He stepped out beneath the arched doorway, past the children playing, past the elevators, until the shenai quieted. He had forgot- ten what it was like to move through a crowd feeling like a hypocrite, aware of the scrutinizing gaze, of his father expecting Amar to embarrass him, anticipating the lie he would tell before he even spoke. He walked until he found himself standing before the bar on the other side of the hotel. Of course, no one invited to Hadia's wedding would dare come here. The sound of the shenai was so far away he could catch it only if he strained to hear. He took a seat beside two strangers. Even that felt like a betrayal. But taking a seat was not the same as ordering a drink. He leaned forward until he could rest his elbows on the counter, lowered his face into his hands and sighed. He could hardly believe that, just the night before, he had managed to walk up to the door of his childhood home and knock. What had surprised him was how little had changed--the same tint of paint at nighttime, the same screen missing from his old window on the second floor. There were no lights on. Wide windows, curtains drawn, nobody home. Nobody would know if he decided to step back into the street. It was a comforting thought--that he would not have to face his father or see how his absence had impacted his mother. The moon was almost full in the sky and as he had when he was a child, he looked first for the face his schoolteacher had said he could find there, then for the name in Arabic his mother always pointed out proudly. Finding them both, he almost smiled. He might have walked away were it not for a light turning on in Hadia's room. It glowed teal behind the curtain and the sight of it was enough to make his chest lurch. She was home. He had made his life one that did not allow him to see or speak to his sister, to even know she was getting married until she had called him a month earlier, asking him to attend. He had been so startled he didn't pick up. But he listened to her voicemail until he had memorized the details, felt sure some nights he would return and on other nights knew no good would come of it.  Her lit window and his own dark beside it. One summer they had pushed out their screens and connected their rooms by a string attached to Styrofoam cups at each end. Hadia assured him she knew what she was doing. She had made one in school. He wasn't sure if he could hear her voice humming along the string and filling the cup, or carried through the air, but he didn't tell her this. They pretended a war was coming to their neighborhood. This was Hadia's idea--she had always been brilliant at thinking up games. They were in an observation tower making sure nothing was amiss. Blue bird on branch, Amar said, looking out the window before crouching down again, over. Mailman driving down the street, Hadia said, lots of letters, over. That night their father had been furious to find the screens dis- carded on the driveway, one of them bent from the fall. The three of them were made to stand in a line. Hadia, the eldest, then Huda, then Amar, the youngest, hiding a little behind them both. "You instigated this?" his father said, looking only at him. It was true. It had been his idea to push out the screens. Hadia stared at the floor. Huda nodded. Hadia glanced at her but said nothing. His father said to his sisters, "I expected better from you two." Amar had sulked to his bedroom, closed his open window, sunk onto his cold sheets. Nothing was expected from him. And though Hadia never pushed her screen out again, he had, every few years, until his father gave up on repairing it entirely. "Have you changed your mind?" the bartender asked him. Amar looked up and shook his head. It wouldn't have been so bad to say yes. It might have even been better for him and everyone else. A drink would calm his nerves, and maybe he could enjoy the colors and the appetizers and the sorrowful shenai. But he had come home for his mother's sake, his sister's sake, and this night was the only one asked of him. His phone buzzed. It was Huda: Hadia is asking for you, room 310. All day he had feared his sister might have only called him out of obligation, and suspected that maybe it was that same sense of duty that had brought him back. Now something swelled up in him, not quite excitement or happiness, but a kind of hope. He stood and stepped back toward the music. His sister, surrounded by close friends and family, was asking for him. Excerpted from A Place for Us: A Novel by Fatima Farheen Mirza All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.