book review: A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

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A PLACE FOR US by Fatima Farheen Mirza
★★★☆☆
SJP for Hogarth, June 12, 2018

This is the only time I can ever remember feeling like there’s something wrong with me for not loving a book. Though it’s only being published today, A Place for Us is already near-universally adored, and it sounded like a book that was right up my alley: a sprawling portrait of a dysfunctional family is the blueprint for so many of my favorite books and I didn’t see any reason for A Place for Us to be an exception.

And it’s undeniably a beautiful novel. It follows an Indian-American Muslim family living in California, who are gathered at the beginning of the novel for their eldest daughter Hadia’s wedding. We find out that the entire family is estranged from their only son, Amar, and the rest of the novel explores the factors that led to this fracturing. The prose style is simple and elegant, and the nonlinear chronology is handled deftly, constructing a portrait of this family that comes together seamlessly by the end.

Others have described this book as heart-wrenching and moving, and I see where it should have been both of those things. But the whole time I was reading I felt like there was a veil between me and these characters, who all felt to me more like constructs than real human beings. A Place for Us hits all the beats you’d expect it to from the very first page. This is a story that’s so simple, so unsurprising, that it entirely hinges on its readers’ emotional investment for there to be any payoff. And I hate to say it, but these characters just weren’t interesting to me. Each of their trajectories practically wrote itself, and I started to find it tedious that such straightforward ideas were being communicated in such a circuitous manner. We could have easily shaved off 100 pages and essentially been left with the exact same book.

But it’s worth reiterating that I’m in the minority, and it’s a sort of disorienting feeling to be left cold by a book which promises emotional resonance above all else. I’m glad that others have been able to connect with this book in a way that I did not. But if you’re looking for a heartbreaking family saga, I would personally recommend Pachinko or East of Eden or Everything I Never Told You over A Place for Us in a heartbeat.

Thank you to Netgalley, First to Read, SJP for Hogarth, and Fatima Farheen Mirza for an advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

10 thoughts on “book review: A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

  1. What is it with beautifully written but emotionally distant books recently? (That then are seemingly loved by everyone)
    Also, did Goodreads also send you a message to follow Sarah Jessica Parker?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Are there any other recent offenders or just this and The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock? At least with that one the prose was a real triumph. Mirza’s prose was quietly beautiful but definitely not the kind where you underline passages because they’re so gorgeous.

      YES, it did! Interesting tactic to get user traffic up, Goodreads, but maybe you could fix the 36846832 problems with your website instead.

      Like

      • I was also thinking of Happiness.
        And yes, The Mermaid was stunningly written. I am really interested to see what she does next.

        I would love for them to fix that problem where every few weeks they lose book stats, or likes, or anything really. But sure, do tell me that SJP is on Goodreads now.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh yes, Happiness! See, clearly such a memorable book. I’m still mad that ended up being such a bore. But even that was more intellectually stimulating than A Place For Us, so it had that going for it.

        I’d love for them to do ANYTHING to improve the app, but sure Goodreads, I’d love to follow an actress famous for a tv show I never watched.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I just finished this book and I really think that the book’s structure is part of the problem. It’s not that it’s impossible to follow, it’s that you’re spinning your wheels trying to unravel the plot instead of becoming engrossed in the story and the characters. For books that are more meta or more mystery-based, an very achronological timeline serves them well by enhancing that sense of suspense or whatnot; for something like this, even when constructed intelligently, I’m just not convinced it ultimately does the story any favors. A few well-timed time-jumps I think would have enhanced the drama. A barrage of them just pulls you out of the story again and again.

    And I totally agree the book is about 100-150 pages too long. At the end when it reiterates for the 100th time that his father really did love him, I finally started just rolling my eyes.

    That’s my take anyway. I ended up liking the book overall, but found it uneven.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved hearing your thoughts on this! I’m relieved to hear I’m not the only one who wasn’t totally enamored with this book.

      You bring up some very good points about the structure – the way you described the reader spinning their wheels is exactly how I felt. But on the other hand I’m just wondering how much this book really has going for it if it were told in a linear chronology – since the plot is so stagnant and there isn’t even a noteworthy climax, I feel like watching the events unfold chronologically may make the overall effect even more dull. I think this would have to be reduced almost to the length of a novella in order to pull off a linear chronology and keep the reader engaged. I actually could have seen myself loving this if it were 200 pages.

      The father’s point of view at the end was so extraneous – at first I thought the new perspective was going to add depth to the story but it really didn’t, it was just rehashing the exact same events with such surface-level examinations.

      This book kind of felt like a first draft to me – I think Mirza had a lot of good ideas but she could have gone a lot deeper into her themes rather than counting on 400 pages of miscommunications being enough to sustain readers’ interest and emotional investment.

      Like

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