Book review: ‘A Place for Us’ by Fartima Farheen Mirza

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

I found this book somewhat difficult to read, yet completely worth the effort. In order to properly tell the story, it is told from the viewpoint of several of the characters and at various times in their lives, and this is intermingled throughout the novel.

It is made clear very early that the parents, Layla and Rafaq, are strict practicing Muslims and have worked hard to raise their children correctly. This has caused stress in the family, as it has not allowed the social interaction desired by the young people. The parents have, however, tried to give their children a variety of experiences to prepare them for life.

The novel begins at eldest daughter Haida’s wedding. Described in some detail is the presence of Amar, her brother, who has obviously been absent from the family for some time due to some sort of problem. The wedding is noteworthy not only because Haida has invited Amar and he has come, but also because Haida’s marriage is one of love and not arranged. So out of the ordinary is this in their culture that the parents have asked Haida and her groom to act as if this is the first face-to-face meeting, as it would be if the marriage had been arranged.

Perhaps to provide contrast, we are then taken to the mother’s wedding in India. Her parents have arranged a marriage to an American, Rafiq. The couple make a life in America, where Rafiq works in an office. They have three children, Haida, the oldest daughter; Huda; and Amar, several years younger. The two sisters get along so well together that Amar often feels he is the odd man out. Their mother tries to compensate with Amar, and consequently the sisters feel he is her favorite.

Amar has yet to meet Haida’s betrothed, Tariq. Urged by Hoda to do so, he goes to the bar for a shot of courage, and then has a brief introductory conversation with Tariq. He has met that responsibility. It is nearly time to meet Amira. Amira, the girl whom he has loved since they were teens, has asked that they meet in the courtyard so they can be alone. Again, the shot of courage. The last time he had seen Amira had been three years ago, when she had ended their relationship, in part because he was drinking. The meeting went about as he had expected, but not as he had hoped. Amira simply wanted to know that he was okay and to wish him well in the future. After that experience, he did not handle the situation well and missed the rest of the wedding festivities.

The story then moved to a year after the wedding, sharing insights and family memories from both Layla and Rafaq. As expected, their girls were doing well. They have heard nothing from Amir since the wedding. While they believe they’ve done the best they could as parents — after all, the girls were raised in the same home as Amir — they can’t help but wonder what if? Will Amir finally realize the depth of their love and return home?

The review is necessarily only a skeleton of this family drama. One of the benefits of reading is to experience other cultures and situations. This story features Muslim family experiences immediately after 9/11. There are also the many pressures on the American teen.

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