Review by : Ayesha Syed
Published in 2018, A Place for Us is the debut novel of Fatima Farheen Mirza. Spanning over 398 pages, the story is about an immigrant Indian Muslim family and the struggles of their lives.
It is a detailed account of first-generation immigrants, cultural and regional struggles, and different parenting styles. It might sound like a story that many of us may not be able to relate to from a non-diasporic experience, but once you dive into it, you will realise that we all struggle with the same things. Every family has its fair share of secrets and things that are not talked about. We all are somewhat troubled because of societal pressures, cultural ideologies, and differences in perspectives.
Communication is one of the most important things emphasized upon in A Place for Us. Time and again, we hear someone say that communication is the backbone of any relationship. Mirza has cleverly portrayed its importance by weaving it into the plotline at different points.
A Place for Us is a poignant saga of a family of five: a mother, a father, two daughters, and one son. The novel opens up with a bird’s eye view of an Indian-style wedding in the USA. It is a great way of capturing the attention of the audience and making them instantly feel at home. Wedding frenzy is something we can all relate to.
The novel then moves on to discuss the past of the family. We get to see and experience family life through the eyes of the different members of the family. It is not a one-dimensional story where the story is told from the lens of one character. The author has done justice to the narrative and it also adds an air of anticipation for the upcoming events.
What I like the most about this novel is the way it lets us make our own decisions regarding the type of person discussed. The characters of the novel are all painted in shades of grey. There is not one character who I can say that I loved completely or hated throughout the whole story.
Grey characters are a realistic representation of humans in our real lives. It is one of the factors in making the story relatable. Mirza has got a keen eye for the human psyche.
This book is a conversation starter. A lot of different issues have been added in the book – the plot device of ‘easter eggs’ – and reading them makes us resonate with the novel. The way we introduce Islam to our kids is one such issue discussed. Another sensitive topic is the general inclination of some mothers towards their sons and being more aloof towards their daughters. The importance of the father-son relationship is also an eye-opener, especially when told from the point of view of the son.
Immigrant parents have a general air of confusion in them; they want to teach the kids about the culture of their homeland, but they also don’t want to deprive them of the culture of the country they are being raised in. This confusion gets transferred to the kids and they grow up as beings who want to appease their parents, but also want to find their unique footing in the world. This scenario is also an evident theme of the novel, where we see kids trying to balance their desires while trying to keep their parents happy.
Family dynamics, the general environment of the home, and how much space is given to the family members are some major themes found in the novel. Forgiveness is also one of the themes of the novel. From the first page itself, we get to learn that forgiveness, when not found in the hearts of people, can ruin and destroy human lives. Allah forgives, but we don’t and that is what marks the major difference in the world. Parental approval is a major thing that a child wears like a badge on his or her chest.
Fatima Farheen Mirza has managed to write a novel that would resonate with a diverse section of people across the world. It has been done subtly and with the refined beauty of an established writer. The fact that this is just a debut novel tells us that she has places to go.