“Amar, I know this will mean nothing to you now. But I do believe that even your father’s God, even He, would forgive you. To know you is to want to let you in.”
Family chronicles are the Brittney’s of Literature. They’re everywhere: at every party, on every shelf, adorning all the Best Of lists. By 2018 there are generational sagas of every type and trope, demographic and translation. But! A Place For Us (the first offer from Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint at Hogarth) deserves a seasoned look. It is stunning. At 27 and fresh from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, Fatima Farheen Mirza is some kind of otherworldly author-hybrid pixie. She writes reverently of religion a la Alice McDermott, displays quiet confidence in her prose a la E. Annie Proulx, and singularly exposes individuals’ perspective of their culture a la Phillip Roth. For me, a pull of these dynasty stories is sheer voyeurism. I, the reader, am granted the opportunity to peer inside a family and compare them to my own sense of familial normalcy and see how we all add up. Mirza is not here to inspire that tendency. She wants us to peer, not rubberneck. By looking closely at her characters she hopes you’ll love them as she does.
Three Siblings And A Wedding
An eldest daughter’s wedding gathers a devout Indian-American Muslim family together. All the peripherals that weddings require are gathered, of course, but it’s also the first time the immediate family has been under one roof in years. The prodigal son is begged back by the momentousness of the occasion. Two sisters and two parents (who, though not a “love match” are models of domestic happiness and compromise) complete the picture of middle upper-class Immigrants Make Good. Rafiq is a hard worker, valued in his company, community, and mosque. Layla is a celebrated gardener and respected mother. Their daughters, Hadia and Huda, are obedient and make good grades. Amar, their son, has always struggled against the dictum set by family and church. Nuptial celebrations spur the reflection of moments and decisions that led to the eventual fracture of the family and the personalities of those within it.
Not Cheap, Accessible
Fatima marches her prose through all seasons of her protagonists’ lives: she touches upon Rafiq and Layla pre-meeting, the siblings are showcased at all ages, no chronological rhyme or reason to be found. Due to three of the main protagonists being chronicled throughout their childhood’s this book could also be stylized as a “coming-of-age” novel. The siblings are dealing with their first loves, first rebellions, first losses, first humiliations. This sounds so overdone, doesn’t it? A family saga and a coming-of-age novel? Throw in some doomed love and time jumps? I cannot stress enough how much Mirza pulls this off. This novel left me with a warm glow like Clock Dance, but not a fuzzy one. I felt good reading, but sharpened, as if Mirza’s words called me to pay attention, to be relaxed not languid.
Deference In Print
I read Alice McDermott’s The Ninth Hour and managed to reference Catholicism for three days before Josh was like “What’s with all the Catholic stuff?” It was the tone McDermott used in her writing about the sisters moved me. I joked that I was ready to join a convent. Fatima achieves this in her novel, but regarding Islam. Her tone is reverent, never shalmtzy. She never bludgeons us with her characters’ piousness, we are never forced to begrudgingly admit that they’re good—we just know they are.
Would Sarah Jessica Parker Steer Us Wrong?
The short answer: no. A Place For Us is a pond on a moon-lit night. It is still and quiet and peaceful and beautiful but pay attention when you strip and go swimming in there, it is deeper than you think and holds universal truths beneath that surface that may hurt you. The last section of this novel absolutely and perfectly ripped my heart out. It is a small section. Though this is Fatima Farheen Mirza’s first book she is master enough to know that in this case, the final section were a cherry atop an already perfect sundae.
What do you think of the trend of celebrities imprints in the publishing industry? I’m more on Team Whatever It Takes To Get People To Read Books but I can also see how this could be a slippery slope.
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