Earlier this year, I wrote that Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere was the best book I've read this year. While I still think it was constructed brilliantly and is one of the most gripping and surprising stories, if I were to give an award for the most beautiful prose it would go to Fatima Farheen Mirza and her debut novel, A Place for Us.
Mirza grew up in California and graduated from UC Riverside's honors program with a degree in creative writing. She is also a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop. This book, her first, is published by SJP for Hogarth (yes, that SJP). In the acknowledgements at the close of the book, Mirza writes, "My heartfelt thanks to Sarah Jessica Parker, for your faith in this family's story, for reading with love, and for bringing this book into the world with that same love." I sincerely hope Sarah Jessica Parker also uses that love that turn this story into a television series or movie.
A Place for Us is a book about so many things. It's about adjusting to life in America, the challenge of being first-generation American when your parents still want to hold to the religious and cultural beliefs of their native country, the deep love between siblings, and the haunting of an unexpected loss.
The story begins at a traditional Indian wedding. The parents, Layla and Rafiq, are thrilled to be celebrating the marriage of their eldest daughter, Hadia, but are unable to focus because this occasion is the first time they are seeing their son, Amar, in years. After a struggle with alcohol and drugs, he has moved away and cut off contact.
When I first started reading, I thought this would be a story about Hadia, the first-born child and her struggle to follow the traditions of her Indian and Muslim parents while living in America. As I kept reading, especially the final 150 pages, it became clear this book is really about Amar. The third and final section of the book is told from Rafiq's perspective (the dad) and it's basically an open letter to his son - reminding him of how much he loved him, apologizing for the way he disciplined him, and begging him to come home.
Normally, when I am reading something new, if I discover a passage that is particularly well-written, inspiring or poignant, I turn down the page. If I had wanted to do that with this book, I would have had to dog-ear all 385 pages. Mirza has a true gift. Her writing is honest and raw, in a way that makes you feel like she must have experienced each and every one of these moments personally, in order to write about them so authentically.
If you are looking for a new book to take on your holiday travels, I can't recommend this enough.
*Photo courtesy of Book Club Chat.