I seem to be on a culture roll today with my blog posts: film review, and now a book review. A Place for Us is a stunning new novel by a very young author, Fatima Farheen Mirza, who is only 26 but writes with the maturity and wisdom of an author at the peak of her career. Remember that name; we’re going to see a lot of wonderful work from this brilliantly talented young woman. The novel comes out under the publishing imprint of SJP for Hogarth, a division of Penguin Random House. SJP is, perhaps improbably, Sara Jessica Parker of TV sitcom Sex and the City fame. Turns out SJP has a great eye for promising books. Reminds me a little of Jackie Kennedy showing up first at Viking Press and then at Doubleday after she ditched Ari Onassis. Jackie had substance and style as a book editor, acquiring over 100 works of fiction and non-fiction during her 19 year career. Who’d have thought, for either woman?
A Place for Us is about a Shia Muslim family with roots in India but living in northern California. They have two quietly obedient, highly competent, religiously compliant daughters and a screw up son. The book is about love and betrayal, about faith that both isolates and supports a Muslim family in a white Christian culture, about tragedy and celebration as intertwined parts of family life. Mirza is able to take the voice, and the perspective, of each family member — allowing us to see the complexity of this family through different lenses. She doesn’t resolve the moral ambiguity involved in betraying those we love, allowing the reader to do that for ourselves. Was Layla really shielding her son Amar from rejection by a family who would not accept his proposal of marriage for their daughter, or was Layla shielding herself from shame within their tight-knit Shia community? You, the reader, get to decide.
Read this book, even though it’s long. Go see Crazy Rich Asians. Your world will be fuller and richer for having both experiences.