Published by Crown/Archetype on June 12th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Literary
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She could hold in her heart a belief in Islam as well as the unwavering belief that every human had the right to choose who they loved, and how, and that belief was in exact accordance with her faith: that it is the individual’s right to choose, and the individual’s duty to empathize with one another.
Do you love those slow-burning, quiet family dramas that take you so fully into the lives of the characters? The kind that show complex human beings trying, often failing, and trying again to do their best? It’s not an action-packed fantasy or a spine-tingling thriller, but get me in the right mood and I adore these kinds of books. Celeste Ng is one of my personal favourites.
And A Place for Us is a perfect example of one of these books. It moves from the present to the past and back again to tell a carefully-crafted tale of an Indian-American Muslim family and all the conflicts and love that exist between its members. It spans several decades and explores themes of culture, faith and identity.
“Somewhere (A Place For Us)” is a song that musical lovers will know well. It comes from West Side Story, which sees two lovers torn apart by cultural and familial differences, in the vein of Romeo and Juliet. This book tells a similar story, yet the divisions exist within one single family instead of between two. Will they ever get to a place beyond the burden of their differences?
The book opens with a wedding. The bride is Hadia – a young woman who we soon learn has broken tradition by choosing her own husband and embracing more modern interpretations of Islam. We also learn that she has invited her brother, Amar, to the wedding and this will be the first time the family has been reunited since Amar ran away years before.
Then we move back in time and a picture slowly starts to build of this family. Mirza shows the intricacies in relationships, whether it be between husband and wife, brother and sister, or mother and daughter. As this family is drawn in detail, we are also taken through experiences relating to 9/11, forbidden love, and the loss of a close friend whose death affects them all.
Ultimately, A Place for Us is about what it means to be both American and Muslim; it is about the clash of religious and cultural tradition with modern ideas and the right to choose. Hadia faces decisions about wearing the hijab and arranged marriage – can she please her parents and be her own person at the same time? Is it possible to unite the old with the new?
My only (small) complaint is that I think another round of editing could have shaved off some of the parts that rehashed the same ideas over again. Depth is excellent; waffling is not. But anyway, it is a minor issue and I really enjoyed the book.
This is the first book from Sarah Jessica Parker’s new imprint SJP for Hogarth and I have to say I am intrigued to see what else they publish.