A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Warning: This review is full of spoilers.
While promoting her book in an interview, Fatima Farheen Mirza said that when she was growing up, she never found a book she could relate to. And as a Pakistani Muslim, I completely agree.
Having read a great number of books, I couldn’t find myself reflected in any one of them. From my lifestyle to my religious background, I would often find these elements added to a character separately, but never together.
So, A Place For Us is the perfect book for South Asian children. But fear not, it is also a book that invites readers from other cultures to explore a completely different story.
The book introduces you to three Indian-American Muslim siblings: Hadia, Huda and Amar. Even though the story begins at Hadia’s wedding, Mirza takes us back to the past to make sure we understand the characters. However, Huda is the only character who is left unexplored in the entire story. Other than that, the book deals very well with family drama, broken hearts and racism.
One of the problems I had with the book was the inconsistent timelines. It was extremely difficult to keep up with the events, especially in the first half of the book. I also think the book was a bit too long. Every scene was explained in detail by more than one character. Although it fit perfectly well in some places, it bored me a little in others.
But I praise Mirza because she knows her characters; she shows us their weaknesses and their strengths while explaining the faith that brings them together. When Amar feels distant from his religion, you sympathize with him. He constantly remembers that his heart is ink-dark and that there is no hope left for him.
He had left the path. His parents had given him a map, and directions, and he had abandoned it all. Now his heart was so ink-dark he could be lost and not know it, and not care, and never know how to find his way back.
I often see that when someone goes through a turmoil or questions their identity, they are told to seek help from prayer. While it works for some people, others end up hating themselves because they think they are bad human beings. Why else are they not able to find peace in their religion.
Take depression as an example: people are told to pray and read the Holy Book to feel better. They are told that this is the only way out. However, Islam, like other religions, tells you to help other human beings instead of judging them. It tells you to listen and to make sure that others can rely on you.
Hence, Amar, who was once a part of the family, becomes a stranger.
On the other side of the story, you have the inflexible and tough father, Rafiq. But just when you decide that you dislike Rafiq, you read the book from his perspective. You find out that all this time he had been trying his best to become a good father.
Taking into consideration their feelings, who are we supposed to blame? Both the father and the son are stuck in an unusual situation: one only softens up when the other is completely shut off. The story, in turn, reflects the nature of people in real life — we can’t simply categorize someone as a bad person and the other as a good person.
The ending could have been more enjoyable if the book was a bit shorter and had fewer breaks between the timelines.
But let me congratulate Mirza — there are many children out there who will finally be able to read a story where they can identify with the family dynamics.
What did you think about the book? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!