Fiction

Book Review: The Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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“The first sound we want our children to hear is the voice of their father, telling the child where it has come from, who its creator is, and whose care it will be in now. Telling the child, there is no God but God, and God is Great.” 

The Place For Us is about an Indian-American Muslim family in their small town in California. We are introduced to them on the wedding day of the oldest daughter and are informed that they are all together and complete, for the first time in three years. It is from here that the family has to confront the past and contend with all the decisions and choices made that has led them to this point. The parents, Rafiq and Layla, have to go through the reckoning of  trying to raise their kids the best way they could. Passing on the traditions, culture and religion that they know, to children who were born on foreign soil and with the burden of straddling two worlds at the same time.

“We pray together and when it is time for us to ask for what our hearts desire, my first wish is that he remain steadfast in faith, and then if he does not, that he never believe that God is a being with a heart like a human’s, capable of being small and vindictive.”

The book provides many beautiful moments. We read scenes from this family’s life over a span of decades. We watch them grow, make mistakes and watch the parents, parent the best they know how. It is written from every family member’s point of view. Through out the novel we get each version of events via everybody’s eyes except the dad’s, which comes at the very end of the book. There are no chapter markers or heads up about whose POV is coming up but I never felt lost or confused.

I felt like I got an honest glimpse into an unfamiliar culture, and the similarities between every culture, faith and the stories we tell ourselves and the concept of family kept me sitting at the table listening to their stories. I think what Mirza does best is the ability to create a story that uniquely belongs to this family but we as outsiders can recognize our own families in them even if we are none of the markers that the family identifies as.

Mirza creates complete and complex characters who are not stereotypes or caricatures of themselves. The siblings who are at the forefront of this novel – Amir, Huda and Hadia – are so beautifully crafted and recognizable that you root for them to make the right decisions. We see how this family is forced to deal with the repercussions of 9/11, the overt and open racism and Islamophobia that it gave rise to – there is a stunning scene where the father makes his two girls take off their hijab to protect them from the backlash they are likely to face in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

“But I did fight. I tried to leave every human I have interacted with better than or the same as when I encountered them….It was the way I wanted to move through the world….That was my fight: to continue to do little things for people around me, so no one would find fault in my demeanor and misattribute it to my religion.” 

I love the closing section of this book which is the only one from the father’s POV, because it puts things into perfect clarity. Even though, I loved the ending, I do not think a lot of people will because everything is not resolved with a big bow, in fact we are left with a lot of questions unanswered – even I wanted to know more about Amir’s life and his choices.

I utterly enjoyed this book, I love complex family stories and slow burns as long as it’s written really well which I believe this book was. If you’re one for a lot of action, i’m not sure this is the one for you. I gave this book five stars on good reads.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you think you’d pick it up now after this review? Let me know in the comments!

Leggy

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