Published by SJP for Hogarth ISBN 9781524763558
Hardcover, $27, 400 pages
For actress Sarah Jessica Parker's first book under her SJP imprint at Hogarth, she chose Fatima Farheen Mirza's stunning debut novel A Place For Us.
Set in California, the novel opens at the elaborate Indian wedding of Hadia, the eldest child of an American Muslim family. Her parents, Layla and Rafiq, and sister Huda are there to celebrate. The youngest child, her brother Amar, is also there, and it is the first time in three years that the family has seen Amar. There is tension, with everyone walking on eggshells around Amar. Layla begs her husband not to say anything that will upset Amar.
The book then moves back in time, and we see the family at different points in their life together. Layla had a special relationship with her son, an easy closeness that escaped Rafiq. Amar was a quiet boy who liked poetry, and he did not have many friends except for Abbas, an older boy who looked out for Amar.
Hadia was the typical eldest child, she worked hard to get good grades and eagerly tried to please her father. She also had a crush on Abbas, the most popular boy in school.
We see their family life through the eyes of each of the family members. Layla and Rafiq are devout Muslims, and pass their strong beliefs onto their children. They expected to arrange marriages for their daughters, and hoped to make good matches for all of their children.
Mirza writes so beautifully, I found it difficult to believe that she is just 27 years-old. She is able to capture the voices of not only the children at various life stages, but she renders the voices of Layla and Rafiq so vividly for such a young person.
Her language is so eloquent it took my breath away, and I had to re-read several sentences to fully appreciate them, like this:
"As she glided between guests and stopped to hug women she had not yet greeted, it occured 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."The theme of this brilliant book might best be expressed by something Hadia thinks- "How were they to know the moments that would define them?" A Place For Us is filled with the moments that come to define each of the family members, and the ones that lead to Amar's estrangement from his family.
The truly saddest part of the book comes in part four, which is narrated by Rafiq. Until this point, we don't really know exactly what he is thinking. He pours his heart out, and the scene where he goes to Amar at the wedding had me in tears.
Although the book moves back and forth in time, and even shifts within chapters, Mirza is such a skilled writer that the reader is never confused. She will be a powerful voice in literary fiction for years to come.
A Place For Us is a compelling story about faith, family, and fathers and sons. I was so moved by it, I didn't want it to end. When I finished it, I wanted to hug it to my chest and just sit quietly and comtemplate it. It is a beautifully rendered story about an American family, and one that I encourage everyone to read. It is the best book I have read this year, period.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Fatima Farheen Mirza's tour. The rest of her stops are here: