A Place for Us

A Place for Us

by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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Named One of the Best Books of 2018 by: Washington Post • NPR People  Refinery29 • Parade • Buzzfeed

"Mirza writes with a mercy that encompasses all things."  RON CHARLES, Washington Post

"A Place for Us is a book for our times." — CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

The first novel from Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint, SJP for Hogarth, A Place for Us is a deeply moving and resonant story of love, identity, and belonging

As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made. There is Hadia: their headstrong, eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition. Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps. And lastly, their estranged son, Amar, who returns to the family fold for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride. What secrets and betrayals have caused this close-knit family to fracture? Can Amar find his way back to the people who know and love him best?

A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of this family’s life: from the bonds that bring them together, to the differences that pull them apart. All the joy and struggle of family life is here, from Rafiq and Layla’s own arrival in America from India, to the years in which their children—each in their own way—tread between two cultures, seeking to find their place in the world, as well as a path home.

A Place for Us is a book for our times: an astonishingly tender-hearted novel of identity and belonging, and a resonant portrait of what it means to be an American family today. It announces Fatima Farheen Mirza as a major new literary talent.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781432852603
Publisher: Gale, A Cengage Company
Publication date: 06/14/2019
Edition description: Large Prin
Sales rank: 1,198,283
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

FATIMA FARHEEN MIRZA was born in 1991 and raised in California. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship.

Read an Excerpt

As Amar watched the hall fill with guests arriving for his sister’s wedding, he promised himself he would stay. It was his duty tonight to greet them. A simple task, one he told himself he could do well, and he took pride in stepping forward to shake the hands of the men or hold his hand over his heart to pay the women respect. He hadn’t expected his smile to mirror those who seemed happy to see him. Nor had he anticipated the startling comfort in the familiarity of their faces. It had really been three years. Had it not been for his sister’s call, he might have allowed years more to pass before mustering the courage it took to return.

He touched his tie to make sure it was centered. He smoothed down his hair, as if a stray strand would be enough to call attention, give him away. An old family friend called out his name and hugged him. What would he tell them if they asked where he had been, and how he was doing? The sounds of the shenai started up to signal the commencement of Hadia’s wedding. Suddenly the hall was brought to life and there, beneath the golden glow of the chandeliers and surrounded by the bright colors of the women’s dresses, Amar thought maybe he had been right to come. He could convince them all—the familiar faces, his mother who he sensed checking on him as she moved about, his father who maintained his distance—he could even convince himself, that he belonged here, that he could wear the suit and play the part, be who he had been before, assume his role tonight as brother of the bride.
It had been Hadia’s decision to invite him. She watched her sister Huda get ready and hoped it had not been a mistake. That morning Hadia had woken with her brother on her mind and all day she willed herself to think as other brides must—that she would be using the word husband when speaking of Tariq now, that after years of wondering if they would make it to this moment, they had arrived. What she had not even dared to believe possible for her was coming true: marrying a man she had chosen for herself.

Amar had come as she had hoped. But when she was shocked at the sight of him she realized she never actually believed he would. Three years had passed with no news from him. On the day she told her parents she would invite him she had not allowed herself to pray, Please God, have him come, but only, Please God, let my father not deny me this. She had practiced her words until her delivery was so steady and confident any onlooker would think she was a woman who effortlessly declared her wishes.

Huda finished applying her lipstick and was fastening the pin of her silver hijab. She looked beautiful, dressed in a navy sari stitched with silver beadwork, the same sari that a handful of Hadia’s closest friends would be wearing. There was an excitement about her sister that Hadia could not muster for herself.

“Will you keep an eye on him tonight?” Hadia asked.

Huda held her arm up to slip rows of silver bangles over her wrist, each one falling with a click. She turned from the mirror to face Hadia.

“Why did you call him if you didn’t want him to come?”

Hadia studied her hands, covered in dark henna. She pressed her fingernails into her arm.    “It’s my wedding day.”          

An obvious statement, but it was true. It did not matter if she had not heard from her brother in years, she could not imagine this day without him. But relief at the sight of Amar brought with it that old shadow of worry for him.

“Will you call him here?” Hadia said. “And when he comes, will you give us a moment alone?”

She returned Huda’s gaze then. And though Huda looked briefly hurt, she didn’t ask Hadia to share what she was, and always had been, excluded from.
The wedding was coming together wonderfully. People were arriving on time. There was a table for mango juice and pineapple juice and another for appetizers, replenished as soon as the items were lifted from the platter. White orchids spilled from tall glass vases on every table. Little golden pouches of gifts waited on each seat for guests to claim. Huda had helped Layla make them and they had stayed awake late in the night, singing a little as they filled each one with almonds and various chocolates, tugging the golden string to seal them. The hall was grand—she had chosen it with Hadia months ago—and as she walked beneath its arches into the main hall she was pleased with her decision. It had been dimmer when they first saw it, but now it looked like the set of a movie, high ceilings and every chandelier twinkling so bright they seemed to compete with one another to illuminate the room. Men looked sharp in their dark suits and sherwanis, women dressed so that every shade of color was represented, light reflecting off of their beadwork and threadwork. Layla wished her parents had been alive to see it. How proud they would be, how happy to attend the wedding of their first grandchild. But tonight even their absence could not dull all she had to be grateful for, and beneath her breath she continued to repeat, God is Great. God is Great, and all thanks are to Him.

Just an hour earlier she had helped Hadia into the heavy kharra dupatta, whispered prayers as she clasped safety pins in place. Hadia had not spoken as Layla moved about her, only thanked her once, quietly. She was nervous, as any bride would be, as Layla herself had been years ago. Layla adjusted the outfit’s pleats, hooked a teekah into Hadia’s hair, and stepped back to take in the sight of her daughter. All her intricate henna. Her jewelry catching light. The swoop of dark hair that peeked beneath her dupatta, that particular and deep red.

Now she searched the crowd for her son. It felt unfathomable that just days ago she still had trouble sleeping when the darkness called forth her unsettling fears. In the daylight she could reassure herself that it was enough to see her son’s face in the photographs she saved, hear his voice in the family videos she watched—Amar on a field trip she had chaperoned, his excitement when the zookeeper lifted up a yellow python, how his hand was the first to shoot into the air, asking to touch it. It was enough so long as she knew he was still out there, heart beating, mind moving in the way she never understood.

This morning she had woken to a home complete. Before her children could rise she took out sadqa money for them, extra because it was a momentous day, then more, to protect from any comment about her son’s return in a tone that could threaten its undoing. She drove to a grocery store and stocked the fridge with food Amar enjoyed: green apples and cherries, pistachio ice cream with almonds, cookies with the white cream center. All the snacks she once scolded him for. Was she cruel to feel more happiness, greater relief, at his return, than for her daughter on the day he had come back for? Before Rafiq left to oversee arrangements in the hall—the tables brought in, golden bows tied to the chairs, the setting of the stage where Hadia and Tariq would sit—Layla climbed the stairs to their bedroom, where he was getting ready.

Suno,” she said, “will you listen? Can you not say anything that will anger or upset him?

She always found ways to speak around her husband’s name. First it was out of shyness and then it was out of custom and a deep respect for him, and now it would be unnatural; she felt obliged to avoid his name out of habit. He paused buttoning his shirt and looked at her. It was her right. She had not interfered with his decisions for so long. She pressed on, “Please, for me, can you stay away from him tonight? We can speak tomorrow, but let us have this day.”

The previous night, when Amar first arrived, the two of them had been amicable. Rafiq had said salaam before Layla took over and guided Amar to his bedroom, heated him a plate of dinner.

For a moment, she wondered if she had hurt Rafiq. Carefully he clasped the button at each wrist.

“I will not go near him, Layla,” he said finally, dropping his arms to his sides.

Amar had played a game during the first few conversations when asked what he had been doing lately. A painter, he said to one guest, of sunsets and landscapes. The look on their faces amused him. To another uncle he said engineer but was annoyed by how it impressed him. Once he said he was pursuing an interest in ornithology. When the man blinked back at him he explained. Birds, I would like to study birds. Now he spoke without embellishment. He excused himself from conversations shortly after they began.

He stepped out beneath the arched doorway, past the children playing, past the elevators, until the shenai quieted. He had forgot- ten what it was like to move through a crowd feeling like a hypocrite, aware of the scrutinizing gaze, of his father expecting Amar to embarrass him, anticipating the lie he would tell before he even spoke. He walked until he found himself standing before the bar on the other side of the hotel. Of course, no one invited to Hadia’s wedding would dare come here. The sound of the shenai was so far away he could catch it only if he strained to hear. He took a seat beside two strangers. Even that felt like a betrayal. But taking a seat was not the same as ordering a drink. He leaned forward until he could rest his elbows on the counter, lowered his face into his hands and sighed.

He could hardly believe that, just the night before, he had managed to walk up to the door of his childhood home and knock. What had surprised him was how little had changed—the same tint of paint at nighttime, the same screen missing from his old window on the second floor. There were no lights on. Wide windows, curtains drawn, nobody home. Nobody would know if he decided to step back into the street. It was a comforting thought—that he would not have to face his father or see how his absence had impacted his mother. The moon was almost full in the sky and as he had when he was a child, he looked first for the face his schoolteacher had said he could find there, then for the name in Arabic his mother always pointed out proudly. Finding them both, he almost smiled.

He might have walked away were it not for a light turning on in Hadia’s room. It glowed teal behind the curtain and the sight of it was enough to make his chest lurch. She was home. He had made his life one that did not allow him to see or speak to his sister, to even know she was getting married until she had called him a month earlier, asking him to attend. He had been so startled he didn’t pick up. But he listened to her voicemail until he had memorized the details, felt sure some nights he would return and on other nights knew no good would come of it.  Her lit window and his own dark beside it. One summer they had pushed out their screens and connected their rooms by a string attached to Styrofoam cups at each end. Hadia assured him she knew what she was doing. She had made one in school. He wasn’t sure if he could hear her voice humming along the string and filling the cup, or carried through the air, but he didn’t tell her this. They pretended a war was coming to their neighborhood. This was Hadia’s idea—she had always been brilliant at thinking up games.

They were in an observation tower making sure nothing was amiss. Blue bird on branch, Amar said, looking out the window before crouching down again, over. Mailman driving down the street, Hadia said, lots of letters, over.

That night their father had been furious to find the screens dis- carded on the driveway, one of them bent from the fall. The three of them were made to stand in a line. Hadia, the eldest, then Huda, then Amar, the youngest, hiding a little behind them both.

“You instigated this?” his father said, looking only at him.

It was true. It had been his idea to push out the screens. Hadia stared at the floor. Huda nodded. Hadia glanced at her but said nothing.

His father said to his sisters, “I expected better from you two.”

Amar had sulked to his bedroom, closed his open window, sunk onto his cold sheets. Nothing was expected from him. And though Hadia never pushed her screen out again, he had, every few years, until his father gave up on repairing it entirely.

“Have you changed your mind?” the bartender asked him.

Amar looked up and shook his head. It wouldn’t have been so bad to say yes. It might have even been better for him and everyone else. A drink would calm his nerves, and maybe he could enjoy the colors and the appetizers and the sorrowful shenai. But he had come home for his mother’s sake, his sister’s sake, and this night was the only one asked of him.

His phone buzzed. It was Huda: Hadia is asking for you, room 310.

Excerpted from "A Place for Us"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Fatima Farheen Mirza.
Excerpted by permission of Crown/Archetype.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. How did you interpret the title of A Place for Us? Does this “place” refer to family, culture, community, or religion?

2. Through the nuances of her writing, Fatima Farheen Mirza depicts complex, multidimensional characters. How were different sides to her characters’ personalities revealed? How do you reconcile Amar’s behavior with Amira with the anger and resentment he holds toward his family?

3. Did your opinion of Rafiq change or develop as the narrative progressed? Did you become more sympathetic or understanding of the father portrayed early on in the novel when, in the final section, the novel switches to his first-person perspective?

4. Layla at one stage advises Hadia to be mindful of the ways she treats and teases Amar, for his childhood experiences will impact the rest of his life. Layla warns, “One day the joke will not be funny. If you always leave him out, if you always tease him and hurt his feelings, soon you will not know how to be any other way with him, and it will affect his personality. Your relationship. For his whole life, and the rest of yours.” Can you recall any moments from Amar’s early years that affected his personality or the course of his adult life?

5. From a young age, Amar fears that he has a “black stain” on his soul. What do you think was the root cause of this fear? Why do you think he questions his own inherent goodness, and how does self-doubt affect his behavior?

6. Hadia comes to see the watch she received from Rafiq, an heirloom that was her grandfather’s, as a symbol of the competition between herself and Amar. How might the watch also be symbolic of their complex relationships with their father?

7. How did you interpret other recurring images or symbols in A Place for Us, for instance, the moon, Layla’s garden, or the black box that Amar received as a birthday gift?

8. In his late teenage years, Amar strives to prove himself as a worthy partner for Amira Ali, deserving of her parents’ approval. Where else did you see characters behave in certain ways, compromising their desires and making major life decisions, to please their family and community? How did this affect their personal happiness?

9. When her children speak English instead of Urdu, Layla fears that they will gradually lose touch with their heritage. As they moved toward adulthood, how did Hadia and Huda depart from certain aspects of their culture? What others did they uphold? You might consider rituals, customs, or gender roles.

10. At Hadia’s wedding, Amira mentions that her brother, Abbas, had been a “moral compass” for her parents. What lessons did you see children teach their parents (and grandparents) in A Place for Us?

11. Toward the end of the novel, Rafiq admits with regret that, as a result of his rigid religious practice and strict adherence to rules, he had failed to impart to his family an understanding of God’s kindness and mercy. How do you think his relationship with Amar would have changed or improved if he had come to this realization when his children were young?

12. Were you angry with Amar for leaving his parents and sisters, or were his actions justified? Did you blame Rafiq, Layla, or even Hadia, for contributing to Amar’s decision to move away from home and cut off communication with the family?

13. In the final section, Rafiq expresses his fear that his grandchildren will experience the effects of racist hate and violence, which Amar had been exposed to in school. Do you think that A Place for Us, depicting the personal lives of a Muslim family in America, has an important social message?

Customer Reviews

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A Place for Us 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can not believe this was the authors first book. She wrote in a way that was so easy to follow. I will think about the characters in this book often, and try to implement the lessons they learned and apply it to my family as my children grow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The characters are very well written and you care what happens to them. Great first novel. Looking forward to more books by this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very relatable story for 2nd generation desi Muslims. So refreshing to have poetic writing capture the stories of the characters’ lives. Overall, great book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Slow start,then I couldn't put it down and then I was sorry it ended
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really touched my heart.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Was sad when it was over!
BettyTaylor More than 1 year ago
I am amazed that this is Ms. Mirza’s first book. It is beautifully written, describing the family dynamics of a Muslim Indian-American family and their intense desire to remain devout to their religion and continue their cultural traditions here in the US. Just like any family, anywhere, of any faith, the children strive to live up to their parents’ expectations of them, often feeling frustration at the constraints they feel their parents have unfairly put upon them. The story opens with the wedding of the oldest daughter Hadia to Tariq, a modern marriage of love rather than the traditional arranged marriage. On her daughter’s wedding day, mother Layla thinks back to the early days of her arranged marriage with husband Rafiq who was an orphan who moved to America on his own, got a job, and established a good life for himself and his new immigrant wife Layla. They had three children - Hadia, Huda, and Amar. While all three of the children struggle with the decision to follow their parents’ religious and cultural practices or not, Amar finds it especially difficult. He spends his entire life trying to find where he fits in and never truly feels that he belongs anywhere. The book alternates between the characters’ past reflections on life and their current lives. Especially poignant are Layla’s reflections. Hadia muses upon why (in her opinion) Amar was her parents’ favorite child, why it seemed only men were important. I loved her biblical comparisons – “The Prophets and the Imans had been men.” Jonah was special, as was Abraham, Joseph, and Noah. But it was Moses’ sister Miriam who came up with the idea of putting him in a basket to save his life. Just as important were the Pharaoh’s wife who saved made Moses her own, Mary who bore Jesus, the Prophet’s daughter Fatima. Hadia has asked her beloved brother Amar to attend her wedding even though Amar has been estranged from the family for three years. The relationship between Amar and his father has always been especially strained. I enjoyed reading about the religious and cultural practices of the family. As I read I could see many similarities between the Muslim practices and my own Jewish practices. This book is a gives us the gift of looking into another culture with the utmost sensitivity and genuineness. The conflicts encountered, the family conflicts, the feeling of isolation, the heartbreaks – all are portrayed with such compassion for the characters. This is a family you will not soon forget.
Emily Grace Acres More than 1 year ago
"Maybe it was the exceptions we made for one another that brought God more pride than when we stood firm, maybe His heart opened when His creations opened their hearts to one another" This book both filled my heart and broke it into a hundred pieces. Why is it always the hardest to talk about the books that we love the most? Because that's what this one has become, a new favorite. While I wade through this heap of emotions this story left me with, I'll attempt a very brief synopsis. Spanning decades, A Place for Us follows one Indian-American Muslim family living in California, the parents having moved there from Hyderabad after their wedding of their arranged marriage. Using multiple perspectives and flashbacks you get the story of their complex and conservative Muslim family. Opening on the wedding day of eldest daughter Hadia you realize that the family has been divided and seeing each other again for the first time due to the wedding. I will leave it at just those couple sentences because the storytelling itself is what makes this book so uniquely beautiful. I felt early on that this one was going to be a hit for me, it using many of my favorite devices for storytelling and exploring many of my favorite themes. That said, this went above and beyond my expectations. The narrative floats forward and backward through time perfectly mirroring the reminiscing minds of the characters. What starts as a single thread slowly unwinds to reveal the whole tapestry, each additional thread giving you the missing perspective of a different family member and giving a whole new light to their life. This method of writing illustrated beautifully how small decisions can shape the future and how prone we can be as families to misunderstand and wound those closest to us. A tragic look at pride, belonging and growth. I started to miss the characters as soon as I put it down. So thankful for the chance to pick this one up and fall in love with this family, I surely won't be forgetting them.
teachlz More than 1 year ago
“A Place for Us” by Fatima Farheen Mirza is intriguing and captivating story of an Indian-American Muslim family. The struggle and conflict of observing one’s faith, tradition, needs and wants is intense. A constant theme of finding balance in a complicated society. The genres for the novel are Fiction and Women’s Fiction. The story mostly takes place in California. The timeline in this story vacillate between the past and present as it pertains to the events and characters. The author describes her colorful cast of characters as complicated, complex and confused. The story can be told as seen through the eyes of each character. I appreciate that the author describes the religion, and traditions, culture and food, and clothing. Hadia, the oldest daughter in the family is getting married to a man that she chose herself, breaking away from the tradition of having a husband chosen for her. Hadia is a physician and has invited their estranged brother Amar to her wedding. Amar does come to the wedding, and surprises his parents Layla and Rafiq , and his other sister Huma. Betrayals, conflicts, and questions of forgiveness come up at this time. The author describes the time period around 9/11, when Rafiq encourages his daughters to wear American clothes, not to be singled out. Amar gets into a major racist fight at school, when other students accuse him of being a terrorist. The students tell him to go home. Amar tries to deal with the fact that America is his home. The author discusses the family dynamics of love, support , change, forgiveness, acceptance and hope. I would recommend this story for those readers who appreciate an emotional conflicted inspirational story. I received an ARC for my honest review.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it! Looking forward to more from this author.
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DanaLynne More than 1 year ago
Who are isn't defined by one moment, one act or event. Rather it is thousands of small moments, each one weaving into the next which creates a life. A Place for Us is a book about the importance of moments. Rafiq and Layla are strangers in a strange land having emigrated Hyderabad to live in California. Although they are a family from a culture and a religion apart, this book is far more about what humanity shares than what separates one person from another. As the story unfolds, the reader moves backward and forward in time towards two pivotal events, two times when Aram, the youngest brother, will walk away from his home and family. But what happens before to cause such a dramatic action? The answer isn't a simple one and Fatima Farheen Mirza is generous and delicate as she unfolds layer after layer of one family's life. A Place for Us is a book to be savored slowly and with great care. The characters are relatable, multi-dimensional and stole my heart completely long before I ever entered the heart of the story. I can hardly believe this was a first novel, and I will certainly eagerly read anything else Ms. Mirza releases.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book slow moving and ultimately melancholy. None of the characters were likable. Did I miss something? I just didn't like it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A novel about a Muslim Indian family living in America. It is about the fragility of family bonds. We follow the life of Rafiq and Layla who had an arranged marriage. We also follow the lives of their children Haida, Huda, and Amir. This novel is so sad at times, about missed opportunities and the cruelty of life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A novel about a Muslim Indian family living in America. It is about the fragility of family bonds. We follow the life of Rafiq and Layla who had an arranged marriage. We also follow the lives of their children Haida, Huda, and Amir. This novel is so sad at times, about missed opportunities and the cruelty of life.
gisellsamaniego More than 1 year ago
This novel is as heartbreaking as it is hopeful. It deftly jumps around time and narrators more successfully than many others, even while giving you a complete, linear-feeling storyline. Amazingly, this book makes you love and miss your parents, idealize and exemplify your children, and then swap everything around all within a paragraph. You will feel the first love, the uncertainty, the pride and the camaraderie with each and every character. A definite must-read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A Place for Us is the first book in Sarah Jessica Parker's imprint for Hogarth.  It has received a lot of press, and because it is the story of an Indian-American Muslim family that now lives in California I was highly looking forward to reading this to learn more about the culture.  I enjoy books that broaden my horizons. The book begins when Hadid, the oldest of three children, is getting married in a love match rather than an arranged marriage.  Her brother, Amar, has been estranged from the family for the last three years but arrives for the wedding after being invited by Hadid. I immediately wondered what had happened within the family.  Mirza proceeds to unfold their story in flashbacks and alternating chapters from various member's point of view.  Rafiq and Layla, the parents, were married in an arranged marriage before moving to the United States.  Rafiq is portrayed as a strong, traditional Muslim man who expects rules and tradition to be followed.  His wife, Layla, is a little less stern and from time to time breaks outside the cultural box and allows her children to as well.  The parents have very different expectations for their oldest child and youngest child.  The middle child, Huda, and the relationship there weren't as fleshed out like the others, though. This book has received glowing 5-star reviews from a lot of reviewers.  What I did love about the book is the examination of the different relationships and family dynamics which have similarities across all cultures, while also learning more about the immigrant experience and the unique challenges that presents.  In most of the reviews I've read, her eloquent writing is highly praised, and most have felt her flashbacks were written seamlessly.  I do not agree with the majority on this; however,  I loved her beautiful use of language but felt there could have been some editing on the first half of the book.  The flashbacks were not flowing seamlessly for me and felt disruptive to the story.  She deftly examines the characters, and they are realistically portrayed.  What I also liked is that you might think someone is acting in a particular way until you learn more about what's behind the actions, and like life, there are not always black and white answers to everything. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for copy to review for an honest opinion.