A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (2018)

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I read this book about six weeks ago (yes, I’m catching up my blog on a snow day), and I remember liking it, though not loving it.  That may be because I’ve read several work of fiction about Indian-American families, and I do feel a little like they have a similar feel.  As an outsider to the culture, maybe that’s not fair: these are complex issues, I know. And I would never profess to truly understanding the complexity or to boiling them all down to the same thing. I’ll start with what struck me the most: the author is 26 years old.  How a 26-year-old can have the maturity to write compellingly from so many different points of view and to allow us to both sympathize and empathize with each character is beyond me. Her story opens at Hadia’s wedding, and the novel centers around this family–parents whose marriage was arranged and who immigrated from India for a better future for their family; the eldest daughter who will become (at her parents’ wishes) a doctor, a middle girl who seems to blend in with the furniture, having little voice or presence; and the youngest, a son, who brings nothing but disappointment to the parents. In the opening scene of the wedding, he appears after a three year absence.

 

Though some portions of the book drag a bit and some scenes feel a little melodramatic, the story is engaging as we come to understand Amar’s disconnection from the family and its expectations, the father’s anger and ultimate remorse, Hadia’s struggle to balance happiness and guilt, and her sister’s lack of agency. Mirza creates the complexity we need, psychologically and emotionally, to see that no one is right or wrong–they’re all just trying to figure it out.  This is a good discussion book.

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