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.