Fatima Farheen Mirza opens her debut novel A Place for Us with a wedding. Part of an Indian-American Muslim family, bride Haida is secure knowing her ever-supportive mother is watching over her; Huda, a typical middle child, is the least visible, trying to blend in, but sidelined most of the time; and youngest son Amar’s fraught tension with his father and on-and-off competition with his elder sister is shown through his mother’s worry.
We intimately know this family because we’ve been in this family. A Place for Us is a story of the fluid needs, wants, and love required to survive the complexity of belonging in a family. Babies grow into children, stumble, fall and maybe survive their agonizing teen years, and finally, hopefully, make their way safely and contented into adulthood. Mirza shows how faith and tradition inform a family and its broader community. How do children make their own way? How do siblings help each other and still get the full or favored attention of their parents? What if a father’s insistence on prayer is elusive, but an important parable means everything to the son?
The feat of Mirza’s book is two-fold; her fictional family is our own, we breathe and feel every struggle and success, and it is also the portrait of a particular family, replete with nurturing and control, betrayal and responsibility, pride and acceptance, love and heartbreak.
The wisdom and talent of this young novelist leaves me nothing short of wonderstruck.