A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza Book Review

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza Book Review

Hi and welcome to my website Movie. So today’s blog is going to be a book review on a recent book I read in a book club which is A Place for Us. This is by Fatima Farheen Mirza and it is a literary fiction novel. This book is kind of hard to characterize, I would say it is a family quiet drama. um there’s a lot of jumping around in time/ told not in chronological order, and uh we switch multiple points of view across the whole book as well. so the book opens and it is the day of Hadia’s wedding, uh she is the eldest child daughter of Rafiq and Layla and at the wedding, or on this wedding day their youngest (who is their only son) Amar has shown up to the wedding day and it’s sort of a surprise because Amar has been not around for a couple years. then the next big big chunk of the book covers 20 to 25 years and we jump around between three points of view, of Layla the mom and then her two– two of her children Hadia and Amar, and uh we are– this is told sort of out of chronological order but there are a number of major events throughout the life that kind of anchor the story and we get to see what’s going on throughout the tale of mostly the children’s uh childhood. and then we do come back to the wedding and learn a little bit more about what happens on the day of the wedding, and like why Amar has been gone and why he’s here and how everyone is treating him now. and then the last 15ish percent of the book changes to Rafiq’s point of view and sort of functions as an epilogue. so it’s a big sprawling story that is covering many years and many points of view. I’m going to talk about some of my general thoughts overall and a couple of things that were discussed during the book club portion and then the second half the video (I’ll put a time stamp here) will be a more spoilery section if you care to know or have read the book. so in general I really enjoyed this book, I was sort of surprised to feel that way just because sometimes literary fiction doesn’t land super well with me, but um – and I did think it was a little slow going but I really appreciated the rich explanations of the characters. to me the characters were the strongest element to this book, we really got to see the layering of emotion and um and the intentions that were going on. we see– we actually cover some of the same incidences from different points of view, so you kind of are able to understand what is going on in a– from one person’s mind and then we switch to another person’s perspective on the same event, and realized that the communication is not happening super well: that they are thinking that they’re on the same page or thinking that the other person is is in one mindset and it turns out they’re not. so to me this really added this layers of reality because we were exploring these relationships amongst siblings as well as parents and just family in general and how they fit into the broader culture. the title of this book A Place for Us definitely had me singing the song from West Side Story throughout the whole book, and uh there are definitely Romeo and Juliet themes here, as Amar is uh sort of interested in a young woman and uh we know from early on in the book that this is never going to work out. the other elements uh that I really enjoyed throughout the book in a broad sense were the exploration of the deeper topics like I just mentioned: siblings’ relationships amongst themselves as well as a diametric of kids versus the their parents. um there was also a lot of elements of exploring traditional values and belief and viewpoints compared to a more contemporary next/ newer generation viewpoint. uh and that had– that was happening both in a cultural sense as well as um just… sort of the the time and gender differences that were also happening. so we cover (without being too info dumpy) there is a lot of coverage of the Muslim belief because this is the faith that the family all partakes in. and so there was also the generational and gender differences for the religious aspects, and there was also some racial components this book as well because we do cover 9/11 happening midway through that 20 years or so. and uh that– this is a you know, Indian-American Muslim family in America and uh they definitely have to navigate things a little differently after 9/11 and uh some of the fallout and how America changes after that incident. so this was a book club book and uh I thought– I felt like our discussions were very interesting at the club. it’s basically me and just a couple uh retired old people and they definitely identified more strongly with the parental points of view, and I definitely sort of responded more to the kid’s point of view. so I felt like that was kind of interesting to have the age difference that was prevalent in the book–- to have kids versus parents to sort of follow along those same similar lines in the book club. I did feel that this book really thoroughly (because of all those deep topics I already mentioned) uh sparked a lot of discussion in our book club which can sometimes be hard to find! a lot of times our book club meetings are “I liked it” and then we move on. but I really appreciated how there was enough here to really dissect and discuss, so that was a strong positive element to this book. overall I enjoyed this book, if anything that I’ve said so far about a quiet family drama surrounding uh mostly the 90s and early 2000s, following this small family of Indian-American Muslims in California– if any of that sounds really interesting to you then I think this would be a great book. I think there’s a lot of interesting just major topics that are discussed so I would definitely recommend. at this point of the video I’m going to discuss a little bit more in depth some of my feelings on things and I’m not going to try super hard to avoid spoilers but I’m not going to really really thoroughly cover spoilers, so just know that kind of going in. and yeah, enjoy my sort of deeper thoughts on this. as I said originally I really felt like the strongest element in this book was the characterization and the depth that we got by seeing by spending so much time in each of these points of view. um Layla’s point of view, she’s the mom, uh I felt like I “enjoyed” her point of view the least. I think I identified with her point of view the least, um that’s maybe partly because I’m not a parent myself at this time, but I definitely most strongly felt from her her… love and like almost overwhelming love for her children and her concern for them. um I also, I kind of mentioned very briefly earlier that there is a little bit of a Romeo and Juliet element happening here, and uh for whatever reason that just never worked out in the book. because Amar falls for Amira, who is in their community, she uh is like the same age as him… the perception that these two would not be good for each other is because her family sort of has a like higher ‘standing’. she comes from ‘better stock’ or something like that, but that’s also because Amar is sort of this troubled kid who the community perceives as not like– sort of as a ne’er do well, and he like, sneaks out as a teenager and smokes and drinks, and people know this and that’s uh not acceptable for this community. so he has also not done anything to try to improve his standing uh and his chances to be with her, and so the moms also kind of conspire to help make sure that this relationship between Amar and Amira never happens. and so I felt like I could really identify with Amar more in that situation, less than Layla [all right you know, Amar more, less Layla] I wonder if I read this book 20 years from now if I would feel differently on that, but there’s that. Hadia is the oldest child, she– there’s two girls. there’s a middle sister named Huda I think and Huda was done dirty, okay. she does not get any points of view, she’s like the peacemaker, she like doesn’t really have a ton of agency throughout this book. that was one of my biggest frustrations is over the course of the whole book we get four out of five family members points of view, and never Huda. so I’m just kind of like “sucks to be the middle child huh?” but Hadia for me was really interesting and easy to relate to, because she’s the eldest she’s being constantly told to like set a good example for everyone but especially her younger siblings. and she inherently had this personality of wanting to follow the rules, wanting to people please and please the authority figures around her. she enjoyed school, she you know, was really trying to always do what was right. um and I feel like that was one of her strongest elements and components to her personality was that she was mostly concerned with always doing the right thing. and I feel like she was not particularly selfish, but she views some of her actions from a lens of being judgmental and harsh on herself, and I felt like that was a very interesting aspect to her personality and something that I could also kind of identify with– a constant questioning of whether or not uh, you know, you or I have done the right thing or have done as much as we possibly could. um so you know I really enjoyed her perspective because I felt like I could see a lot of myself in her. and then the one– the third major point of view that I’m going to discuss is Amar himself. and I felt like his perspective was sort of a tough one to read because he was really sensitive to other people but he constantly felt like he was on the outside looking in. he constantly talks about struggling to fit in and constantly feeling like an uh like an outsider. and he ultimately ends up sort of questioning his place in the family, questioning his place in this community, questioning his faith, um sort of distancing himself from the Muslim faith and eventually declaring that he is not a Muslim and he’s an atheist. um and I appreciated those elements. I would have liked just a hair more about WHY he felt that he was an outsider? I guess I just sort of… he just always felt like he was an outsider. um and so I really questioned whether or not this character had some sort of undiagnosed something– like I was sort of thinking ADHD was the biggest … the most things that were coming up as sort of ‘traditionally’ being ascribed to ADHD, so I don’t really fully understand why that was never fully addressed or why, since he especially struggled so much at school, how this was never really caught or anything. this this book happens in the 1990s and early 2000s so I feel like they’re – and in California– so I feel like there could have been some intervention possible here, but hard to really be sure. and then the book ends with the dad’s point of view, Rafiq. and this is sort of functioning as a epilogue where it’s been many years and he is reflecting back on his life and he is thinking specifically about a number of the events throughout the book that are those important events that act as the anchoring time points. uh but for me I felt like there was a couple things that were left out in this book where there’s a mention very early on where Hadia has a like bruise on her face, and it sort of implied that … she had been like, beaten by the dad? um there was another line where Amar talked about how he purposely tried to divert his father’s attentions and angers uh onto himself to try to like ‘spare his sisters’? I felt more so than what was presented throughout the book that there was something going on with the dad, more so than he was just strict. uh he from his perspective as at the end of the book he reflects on his life, he thinks “well I was really strict, maybe I could have done things differently.” but I don’t feel that he sees how– that level that he took, that I was perceiving and that his children were perceiving um throughout the course of the book on how harsh he truly was: like possibly to the level of manipulation and like emotional abuse, and possibly physical abuse (like that bruise thing never comes up again). so I personally didn’t care very much for Rafiq’s sort of slightly more mellow point of view at the end of the book because I felt like it kind of came out of nowhere, that we were getting this perspective and we were supposed to just like feel for this, you know, aging man. and I just kind of was annoyed with his perspective and I didn’t feel like he brought enough to the book to like, justify his feelings. um or justify his actions from previous– from the first big chunk of the book. I sort of wondered at the book club it was brought up to just sort of discuss Rafiq’s point of view– and I wondered at the end if because we’re seeing from HIS point of view if he really was like, as abusive or troubling as as I perceived him to be and as like his children seem to believe him to be. but then in his point of view it’s sort of… your seeing into the mind of someone who’s able to justify their actions, and from their point of view what they’re doing is not really a problem. so I’m not sure how much of that was present. the last thing that I wanted to mention is that I do feel personally that there could have been more like “culture clash” happening here, because Rafiq and Layla had been born and raised in India and um they are raising this family in America and so not only are they trying to uh balance their views of having come up in um like a more strict time and a more traditional environment, uh but a different country as well. and I just didn’t feel like there were very many times where there was like a culture clash between either cultures, like American versus Indian nor uh in religious respects. there was a couple little mentions but they weren’t really played out. I wasn’t sure if this is because the community that is described for– that this family is a part of, for the you know, Muslim faith, I wasn’t sure if that was because the community was so close-knit that the kids and the whole family didn’t really have that many interactions with people who were not Muslim or from a broader sense? I don’t know, because they talk about like going to like Quran class but then they also talk about like, being in a public school so I was just not 100% clear on some of the details and I personally feel like… I don’t want to say that I wanted more drama but I feel like there would have been a little bit more like “culture clash” happening, a little bit more like “religious clash”. um I mean Amar does eventually declare that he’s not Muslim anymore so like there is that element, but I just felt like there could have possibly been more there to increase conflict and tension, but don’t know. so yeah I definitely rambled a lot in this video, and I hope that I was clear on a lot of the elements that really spoke to me and that I thoroughly enjoyed from reading this book. I felt like the complexity layered in of the characters was super strong and the all the exploration of those deeper topics as I already mentioned was very interesting and brought up a lot of fodder for discussion for the book club meeting, and we had really great discussion at the book club. so all of those elements uh together made this reading experience really enjoyable for me and uh sparked a lot of thought, which is exactly what I want from my books and from my book club discussions. so I hope that you found my discussion today on A Place for Us super interesting, or at least possibly sparked your interest enough to maybe encourage you to pick up the book. I would definitely recommend this as a read. and thank you so much for reading this blog and listening to my review. if you’ve read this book or have anything to say about anything I’ve said in this blog I would appreciate that, leave a comment down below. thanks for so much for reading and I will see you next time, bye!

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