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.
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: SJP for Hogarth (June 12, 2018)
I was exited to jump on the tour for A Place For Us, both for the subject of the book--I love immigrant stories, especially when they involves family and the Indian and Muslim cultures. I also like Sarah Jessica Parker and I admit to being intrigued about what smart and book-loving female celebrities are reading, enjoying, and supporting--whether by including a book as a book club selection or backing it, as in this partnership between the actress and Hogarth Publishing. I hoped the story would be as good as it sounded from the description and it was--a beautifully written book that drew me in from the start, kept me engrossed throughout, and made me sorry to reach the end.
The story focuses on a Muslim-American family where the father, Rafiq, immigrated to America as a teen and entered into a marriage arrangement with Layla, who immigrates after the marriage, leaving behind everyone and everything thing she knows. They live in California where they raise three children, daughters Hadia and Huda and the youngest, their son, Amar. The parents hold strongly to their faith and and the Muslim-American community with the children being pulled between these traditions and assimilation into American culture. The story starts with adult Hadia's wedding--a love match between the eldest child (a perfectionist and doctor) to Tariq (a more modern/relaxed Indian of a different sect). We see the family at the wedding and learn that there is much drama and estrangement between Amar and the family. The history of this family drama unfolds throughout the book as the author moves back and forth in time and the tale is told from the different perspectives of the main characters. I think the great beauty in a book like this is how you can find a family that in most all aspects of background, religion, and life in general, is so completely different from your own, yet you can find so many commonalities in the characters, their personalities, roles in the family, and experiences. Hadia and Amar as the oldest daughter and youngest son, tend to get the most notice--both good and bad from their parents, while Huda, the middle child, is more of a minor character--but no less relatable. The story touches on subjects such as addiction, cultural struggles, family dysfunction, and the impact of 9/11 on a Muslim family in America (the children are teens when it happens) and the ongoing fear, distrust and bigotry many have for this religion and culture.
There were times that the back and forth in time and perspective got confusing to me as it moves quickly and often, with no clear identifying path. I found at one point that I must have put my bookmark in the wrong section and I missed about fifty pages and didn't notice it until something really didn't make sense, then I had to go back to read what I had missed. Still, the story is well-crafted and so impressive, especially for a debut novel, that the minor frustrations of having to unwind, slow down, and find my place were well worth it for the quality of the story. The way the author uncovered the story in pieces and learning the various characters' "whys" for their actions were smartly done and had me wiping away tears at an ending, that while not wrapping things up completely, left me satisfied.
A Place For Us is not a light, breezy summer read, it requires thought and draws at emotions, but it resonated with me and I think it will with anyone that enjoys stories with family and cultural drama, beautiful and descriptive writing, and strong characters.
Author Notes: 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.
Find out more about A Place for Us at sjpforhogarth.com.
Centered around an Indian wedding and family life, there is plenty of food to be found in A Place For Us. Food mentions included mango and pineapple juice and a table of Wedding appetizers--including samosas with mint sauce and tandori chicken, wedding gift pouches of almonds and chocolates, popcorn, pomegranates and mangoes, ice cream--pistachio, almond and vanilla, Peanut M&Ms, lunches of pears, grapes, Goldfish crackers, wraps of roti and fried okra, cereal with banana, kheema and fried tomatoes, dal, tawa gosht, freshly-made roti, macaroni, spinach and egg, tomatoes and basil growing in a garden, biryani/rice, a blended iced coffee drink, chaat with yogurt, blackberries, pasta salad, and baby carrots, a favorite Thai restaurant with desserts of mango sticky rice, fried roti and fried ice cream, pizza, tea, and an eggplant dish.
For my book-inspired dish I decided to go with a mango lassi--partly because it has been hot and humid here and after seeing it referenced several times in the book, I was seriously craving one, and partly because it was something that had special meaning to Hadia as it was the favorite drink of her boyhood crush. I wanted to keep it simple and dairy free, and not too sweet--so it isn't the most traditional of lassis, but it is delicious.
Vegan/Dairy-Free Mango Lassi
By Deb, Kahakai Kitchen
2 cups frozen mango chunks
1 cup coconut milk
2/3 cup non-dairy yogurt, plain or vanilla
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
1/2 tsp rosewater (optional)
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (optional)
sweetener of choice to taste if needed/desired--I didn't use any in mine
ice cubes/ice water, if needed/desired
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, you can add a little ice water or ice cubes as needed and continue to blend until smooth and pourable. Serve immediately. Any leftovers can be stored, cover in the fridge for a day or so.
Notes/Results: There is just something about a mango lassi--it's refreshing, satisfying, slightly exotic with the rosewater and cardamom and so good. With the coconut milk and coconut-based yogurt I used, this one was ultra rich and creamy and I found for me, it did not require any additional sweetener, but adapt it to your own tastes with whatever dairy or non-dairy milks and yogurts you prefer and sweeteners--honey, agave, coconut sugar, or a date or two would all work. I drank one of my lassis when I made it and saved the remaining to drink the next day, as well as stirred some of it into a vanilla chai pudding. I enjoyed it all and will happily make it again.
I'm sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "A Place For Us" was provided to me by the author and the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.