23 Oct 2018

VA Book Club: “A Place For Us”

Did you manage to finish, A Place For Us?

It is the story of a Muslim family of five who struggles with their heritage in a new world in their own ways. It is a story of family foremost, religion and nation are powerful themes but for me, they are secondary to the relationships between the five.


I found Fatima Farheen Mirza’s writing to be exquisitely observant and powerful in its simplicity. How one so young could understand with such depth and clarity the connections and disconnections in this world. This is a debut novel and for that, it is even more astounding to read and re-read her perceptions.


I asked Fatima how she managed to be so observant and so engaged with her characters at such a young age. She has such a generous and warm spirit and kindly answered my question. Here is what she said,


I would say that each time I sat down and tried to imagine the characters, I wanted to also imagine the details of their life.


The little tics or habits, such as Hadia pressing her nails into her arm, and how that might be a habit that lasts her whole life. And how those who know her might be able to witness it as well, and I wondered what do they think of it? Surprisingly or unsurprisingly it is only Amar who picks up on it, and that too from a very young age.


So I just wanted to always note the particulars of their existence, and understand what their life really looked like, smelt like, felt like.”



There were moments where I felt lost, but not many, and there were passages I marked as they moved me profoundly. I didn’t want A Place For Us To End and I didn’t want it to end the way it did and yet I understand there is no real end. How could there be?


“Amar was their son. Even the word son felt like something shiny and golden to her, like the actual sun that reigned over their days.”


I wonder about Amar? What happened to him and where is he now? Thinking about him makes me recognise the impact of Fatima’s words; he is a fictional character I don’t want to let go. Amar is the most ‘problematic’ in the family, hard to understand and confusing at times yet he is the centrepiece of her story.


“You have a choice, Amar. All of us are in this same boat, but you are the only one who chooses to thrash about, making unnecessary waves. You can be still. You can go with the flow. That way, you’ll save energy to swim when you need to.”



Tell me your thoughts – whether you managed to finish, A Place For Us, whether you loved it or didn’t – all and everything. I will respond in the comment section. xv



I Would Like To Know

How did A Place For Us make you feel? Are you glad you read it?


Did you find the narrative gripping? Did it hold your attention? Could you identify, respond and react to Fatima’s multidimensional characters?


Who was your favourite character? Did you change loyalties as the book progressed?


Did you have a favourite passage? Are there sections of the story you re-read?


The ending? How did you feel about it?


Is it the kind of book you would normally read? Was it challenging and creatively rewarding as a reader?


Did you like it? Would you recommend it?


 

 

 

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38 Comments

Enid Lacob

I loved the book I felt that it showed what it means to be part of a family. It was beautiful and the fathers redemption at the end was so moving. I thought the ending was true to life and it was just a perfect book

Reply
Vicki

Thank you, Enid and I am so happy you enjoyed A Place For Us.
I read the ending several times and felt so differently disposed to Rafiq by the last page.
I still think of Amar and what’s happening to him…
Love your thoughts on what we should choose for next Book Club?

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Jenifer

This was a hard book to get through for me. The jumping back and forth in the first part of the book was almost too much for me. It was very confusing at times and I felt lost. That writing style made it difficult for me to concentrate on the actual story and be invested. The overall book was good. I liked it but didn’t love it.

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Vicki

It did require a concerted effort, in the beginning, to work through the time periods, I agree… but after a while, I became accustomed to her style. I did find myself looking forward to certain time frames more than others. I loved it and found her storytelling interesting but it was her insight into the family members that resonated with me.
Thank you for joining me and … what shall we read next? :)

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Annie

I have already commented about how much I loved this novel, how extraordinary it is for a debut work, how her characterisation of the various family members was so profound. I would never have read it; I have still not heard of it save for this venue…so thank you, Vicki. I have recommended it far and wide. As for the next book, I would love to read something equally new and different…but I do have a recommendation, a book from my local Australian book club (voted our favourite book over the past Five years): Let go my hand by Edward Docx. Poignant, funny, deep, beautifully written.

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Vicki

Thank you Annie,
It is tough to find a book that isn’t widely known – part of my challenge – and part of reading what we would not normally gravitate towards.
Thank you for your recommendation by Edward Docx – I’m off to look for that :)

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Susan in Georgia

Very worth the read, I keep thinking about the themes and characters. Talented author, creates believable characters and a sense of place that draws the reader into the story. I experienced reader’s whiplash midway thru the book with the numerous flashbacks and changes of voice, a bit too much. For me, adding Part Four, father as narrator diminished the book. His emotional pain and love for his family was beautifully evident in his last conversation with his son, Amar, at the wedding. I didn’t need to know the life details of each family member going forward. I already understood their successes, felt their pain and love for each other, and their struggle with change & assimilation. Doubt I would have read this selection without the book club, glad I did.

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Vicki

Thank you, Susan.
I am so happy you enjoyed it and yes, Fatima is so talented. Her descriptions are beautiful and I love what she said when I asked her how she could be so observant at such a young age.
Characters that remain with us after the book is long finished is one of the greatest gifts an author can have and give to their readers.

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Sunflower

Hi Vicki, I too found this hard going at the beginning and did keep losing track of who was who. I don’t think the narrative helped by the lack of complex sentences but could see the reasoning in places. It wasn’t a book I would have chosen myself but was interesting to see that in different cultures a sense of love overrides everything and I feel this was very clear with this book. Could I recommend The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman. A book which spans a generation but has a deep historical context that is understood by all. The context of this fascinated me because whilst I was fully aware of the history of World War Two I was unaware of the finer details that this book revealed. The vocabulary and sentence structure in this book had my admiration.

Reply
Vicki

Yes.. I shall enjoy reading The Lost Wife.. it sounds fascinating.
One element of Book Club I am noticing is my happiness to be back with the written word. Knowing we are all thumbing the pages together is inspiring and has me focusing and concentrating more. Definitely Netflix and I have been spending way too much time together ;)

Reply
Vicki

I just had a look for The Lost Wife and read a short synopsis – what a story.
One of my mother’s best friends migrated to Australia from Europe after WW2 and she had a similar tale of tragedy.
She was the second wife of a “widower” who thought his first wife had been killed during the war – she turned out to be alive (a chance encounter in a restaurant post-war) and my mother’s friend felt it right that she should leave and “return” him to his rightful wife. I was too young to really understand the sadness of her plight but I do think of her today and what an incredibly selfless woman she was.

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Sunflower

Goodness real life love and must have impacted on you for you remember it now and understand the feelings the woman must have felt. It was more than love though I felt when reading it was the situation the female character was in and how she dealt with this. Historically I really didn’t have any awareness of the importance role the artists in internment camps played. I even looked up this and have since read further about it. Certainly is a good book. There is another one I’ve read which is predominantly based at The Vatican called Sand and Ash. I can recommend this if anyone is interested in this genre of books.
Have to dash Vicki – my yoga class awaits me!!!

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AnnaVera

I read this not long after Kamila Shamsie‘s Home Fire, and found there were interesting parallels between the two female protagonists, but the brothers could not have been more different. In both cases the cultural and religious aspect was fascinating and particularly how this influences family roles and expectations. Haida was my favourite character and it was sad how she betrayed her brother, and despite being good and dutiful, never quite came first, apart from in the end to her own son ( and is this really so clear cut?)

Reply
Vicki

A modern woman living between two worlds – I felt as hard as Hadia tried she was never able to feel completely herself in either. An interesting brother/sister dynamic which is similar the world over, despite country or religion.

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Stephanie

It is hard to believe how young Fatima Farheen Mirna is. What a wonderful future she has in store for her.
To me, A Place for Us is a beautifully written novel that not only sees a tapestry of pain but grace that gives the family enough strength to embrace it.
I had a “soft” spot for Rafiq who for many reasons reminded me of my own father and his quest to mend some broken bridges before his own death: Rafiq says: “The older I get, the easier it is for me to imagine that God can forgive a man for his sins when they only affect him, but maybe He wants people to mend any hurt and harm they cause their fellow brothers and sisters while in his life, while living in this realm.”
Thank you for recommending this book Vicki and for your thoughtful comments throughout your reading of it.

Reply
Vicki

I found Fatima’s insights quite extraordinary and evolved for someone her age. Maybe I should not be surprised but when I compare my own level of observation and where I was at in my 20’s, I am amazed. She is a gracious and talented young woman and I am excited to read her future offerings.

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Tracey

Thank you for suggesting this book. I probably would not have picked it out of all the books out there. I enjoyed reading the story and really liked the way she kept giving us more details of their lives and characters. I needed to keep reading to see where it was going. I did not enjoy the way the book turned into more of the fathers diary at the end. I preferred reading the story in real time rather then just his memories and his version of events. I was left wanting to know more about them but really happy that their brother was completely lost but still made contact with them. I enjoyed the book and found it easy to read. I could also relate to many of the events especially the traditional wedding, as growing up in Durban in South Africa, I had many Indian friends and attended some of their Hindu weddings. Thank you.

Reply
Vicki

The ending was surprising – I found that and at the time it confused me somewhat. So I re-read… now I am understanding the author’s reasoning more and feel it adds depth to her connections and relationships between the family. Suddenly the father, Rafiq, was more present in my mind and I had greater sympathy and compassion for him.

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Tracey

Yes I agree the father did seem distant and rather harsh during the book. But after the ending you were able to connect to him easier and understand better how he was dealing with it. Thanks again. Waiting for the next suggestion!

Reply
Vicki

I’m thinking!
I want to choose something very different and I am trying to decide whether to go back to a Classic we all know and love or even an autobiography to mix it up… But I am a fan of fiction so… I shall keep you updated and please… all suggestions, most welcome… :)

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Catherine Smith

Good Afternoon Vicki,
I have really enjoyed the book! However, I haven’t quite finished it…yet. (Netflix is my guilty pleasure as well.) What I am most pleased about is the opportunity to get back to reading in an environment that doesn’t pressure me to complete the book at another’s pace and provides enough group feedback that I want to finish the story. I also appreciate the exposure to books that I may have not chosen for myself had they not been recommended by your club.
Best,
Catherine

Reply
Vicki

Thank you Catherine,
There is no hurry – we can all discuss whenever we feel like it. It is a book I am sure we will think about long after the last age is turned.:)

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Susan in Sydney

I finished reading ‘A Place For Us’ some weeks ago and it is interesting to consider what stays with you as time passes.
As such, I find the book’s title particularly well chosen; it is sufficiently inviting and inclusive to make you want to turn the pages.
As you read on, you realise that those 4 words, ‘A Place For Us’ encompass all the themes the author wishes to address……. a “place” to write about living in a Muslim family of Indian heritage, in 21st century USA; a “place” to examine varying personalities; a “place” to explore the many faces of love, loss, loyalty, regret; a “place” to consider similarities and differences, attitudes and behaviour.
I enjoy being able to remember this book title that allows me to reflect on the fact that there is indeed, a place for all of us!

Reply
Vicki

A great title in so many ways, Susan. And so true, sometimes it is hard to find but there is a “place” for us. We simply need to look :)

Reply
Missi

I hate to admit it, but I am only on page 133. However, I am really enjoying the book and the character development. I think at this point my favorite character is Hadia. Oh how I felt for her not being able to go to her friend’s party! I think anyone with strict/religious parents can relate to the rules and restrictions put upon one growing up, but this family is SO strict. But I see the struggle in her parents. They believe they are protecting their children and they may seem hard. But the author shows a softer side to them as well. And Hadia sees is too; how her father will buy her a treat after denying her something. I think that’s what I like about this author so far. Her ability to show her characters frailties, their thoughts and struggles and the small details of their lives.

A similar book to this one I read was called Salt Houses by Hala Alyan and mystery novels by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Both authors write of assimilation from a Muslim point of view. All very good.

Favorite part so far: The sweet romance between Amar and Amira but I am afraid not all will end well.

Reply
Vicki

We won’t spoil it for you …
I had so many favourite passages – the relationships were so interesting and especially how they revolved around Amar and the consequences of that… Happy reading :)

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Carolyn

I’m afraid I’m way behind. I’ve made some progress but no where near the end to contribute. I might need to have 2 books notice to keep up with you all.

Reply
Vicki

It doesn’t matter – there is no rush – come back and chat anytime when you are ready, Carolyn.

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Joanne Nicolson

Hi Vicki. Unfortunately I missed out on reading A Place For Us. After reading all the comments, so far, I am keen to source a copy now – and will post my comments at some point later. For a future reading, I would like to suggest The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I have read this beautiful novel and was spellbound at each turn of the plot. Would really look forward to re – reading and having the opportunity to discuss with yourself and others. Joanne.

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Amanda Lay

I enjoyed the premise of the book. The normalising of a religion that has been made toxic through misrepresentation and demonisation especially since 9/11. You come away from the book admiring the way of life with its religious aspects embedded in daily life and observed in most cases with joy and other times acceptance. I particularly enjoyed the actual marriage ceremony and all the various customs attached to it. I was there in a way that I could never actually be. The Amar storyline is heartbreaking and emphasises the parts of the religious custom that live very uncomfortably beside the West – A Place for Us – chosen to better their lives that they would have had in India. Every decision has consequences and sacrifices. Every family has its own individual story and can appear dysfunctional if not understood intimately. But I found the book didn’t have sufficient narrative drive to hold my attention and I have to confess to not finishing it. I think for a debut novel it was very good but needed some more editing. But I am glad to have read what I did. It is a book that would have caught my attention as I am a great fan of a sprawling narrative over generations.

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Vicki

Thank you A,
I shall call to discuss ;)
Even though you didn’t finish – and I did enjoy the narrative although I understand why you found it slow towards the centre – there were so many themes you obviously picked up on. All suggestions welcome for our next read?? xx

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Amanda Lay

For our pre Christmas read I was thinking of a favourite classic that we have all probably read but a long time ago, perhaps even at school or uni, so we need to revisit its magic and be amazed by its contemporary resonance and how it still holds our attention after all these years. Maybe ‘Wuthering Heights’ – it never fails to break my heart. And perhaps we can then buy a hard copy with a beautiful ‘vintage’ binding and give it as a gift instead of taking chocolate or mince pies to pre Christmas parties. There is no better gift than a great book and to be reminded of its existence.

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June Boggs

I really enjoyed A Place for Us. I listened to it on audio and thought it was so well done. I too, was a little confused in the beginning, but at some point I was totally taken in. On the surface, there were very few similarities between my family and the family in the book, I was reminded again that we are alike in so many more ways than we are different. The ending wasn’t tied up in a neat bow, but I loved hearing the voice of Rafiq speaking to Amar. Maybe the mystery of Amar would make a good second book?

Reply
Vicki

Yes!
I still think of him and have my ideas of what happened to him. I think of him as becoming a great success.. all that love he grew up with, despite the difficulties, will stand him in great stead…

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Gwen Davey

A beautiful, touching and intimate book. No, I don’t often read books like this in its deep tale of each person’s story of their love of their family members; or is it how family’s lives and religion, impact the charter of an individual’s life. At times the transitions were difficult for me, too. I was also not ready to accept, or believe, the father’s tenderness towards his son. I wanted to, but considering the deep and long alienation, I find that hard. However, this young author has done a fine job in her first book at creating the richness of family and love and the transcendence of otherness that is their spirituality. A good book, indeed.

So, to answer your questions:
I always ended the chapters feeling touched, content. Yes. I will recommend it to others.

I had no favorite character. All had strengths and weaknesses. The son had the strongest strength in being able to find love despite the prohibitions.

I wasn’t interested in reading about the father. However, I am glad the author wrote about him. I loved the passage of his perception of looking at the family from the back yard into the kitchen laughing, relaxed and accepted of each other without the father being there.

The ending, as I understood it, and I may not have it right, is that father and his son with meet one day in heaven, once all the sins are cleared, kind of sums it up.

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Vicki

Thank you, Gwen, for your very thoughtful appraisal… I enjoyed reading your thoughts very much..

Reply

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