A Place for Us has been guaranteed a certain amount of prerelease publicity as the first novel under actress, producer and designer Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint, SJP for Hogarth. The author, Fatima Farheen Mirza, is a 26-year-old graduate of the highly respected Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The novel concerns itself with the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family living in California. The opening scene is the wedding of eldest daughter Hadia. The bride’s prodigal brother, Amar, has returned after an absence of several years, and the reasons for this absence unfold in ensuing chapters.
Hadia and Amar, along with sister Huda, are the children of Layla and Rafiq, and the interior lives of these characters are explored in continually shifting timelines. Early on, these multiple points of view and the seeming lack of plot make the story confusing, but A Place for Us gains traction when Amar is bullied at school around 9/11. He is also involved in a forbidden romance with Amira Ali, the daughter of a well-respected local family whose eldest son died in a car accident.
Overshadowing all these events are the parameters of a deeply traditional Muslim culture—arranged marriages, the differing set of standards and expectations for men and women, the pressure for academic achievement—and the looming sense of being an “other” in American society.
Immigrant novels often center on conflict and the juxtaposition between Old World values and modern Western culture. In seeking a better life for their children, Layla and Rafiq must contend with this and the effect it has on their family. A Place for Us resonates at the crossroads of culture, character, storytelling and poignancy.