A Place for Us, by Fatima Mirza, tells the story of a Muslim Indian-American family and the tensions between generations. The parents, Layla and Rafiq, both immigrants from India, were an arranged marriage. Both are still heavily steeped in tradition, as is the local community of Muslim Indian immigrants where they live in California. Their three children are caught between the culture of their parents and the culture of America, the pace of their birth. Hadia, the eldest daughter, feels the weight of tradition the heaviest and tries her best to meet all of her parents’ expectations. Amar, the youngest, while not purposefully rebelling, has the hardest time fitting in and always seems to fall short in his father’s eyes. The book mostly alternates between Hadia and Amar’s perspectives (although there is an occasional chapter from Layla’s perspective as well), jumping through time to reveal bits and pieces of how everything went wrong. Oddly enough, although Hadia and Amar are polar opposites in their approach to the culture clash, the author evokes sympathy for both of their situations.
All of the main characters felt very real and well developed. There are no elaborate outside plot devices, the story is about these characters and the pain they experience trying to suppress who they really are. The cultural heritage of the characters is very detailed, you will learn a lot about their way of life, but this only serves to show how similar we all are as they have the same issues as any family. I do not usually read family dramas, so this was a bit outside my comfort zone, but I truly cared about all of the characters throughout the book. I also learned a great deal about Muslim traditions. This book is a great choice for someone looking to understand a different cultural perspective.
The only part of the book that was slightly disappointing was the ending. The last chapters recount the events of the book again, but through the father’s eyes. Up until this point, we had no idea what he was thinking, but we finally do at the end. I’m not sure if we are supposed to feel more sympathy for the father knowing his motivations or not, but I didn’t think the father’s section was as strong as the rest of the book. But it doesn’t detract from the beautiful writing of the rest of A Place for Us.
Review by Natalie Wright.