Fatima Farheen Mirza may only be 26, but her breakout novel, A Place for Us, a quietly sprawling Indian-American family drama, speaks to a real maturity. Perhaps it was this maturity that first caught the eye of a little lady called Sarah Jessica Parker, who picked it as the lead title for her new imprint, SJP for Hogarth.
The novel opens on the wedding of the eldest daughter, Hadia, to a man she’s marrying for love, not tradition. (You can probably guess how well this goes over with her conservative Muslim parents.)
This isn’t the wedding’s main source of tension, however. That honor belongs to the return of Amar, the youngest child and only son, who ran away three years ago, but is now back at Hadia’s behest. Amar is intense and curious, and clashes with his father, Rafiq, a strict enforcer who struggles to let his guard down.
After setting the stage, Mirza travels back in time, jumping from character to character to construct a history of the family. She captures the uncertainty that Rafiq and his wife Layla felt when moving to America as newlyweds who barely knew each other (theirs was an arranged marriage) and the religious torment that led Amar to engage in a years-long cycle of rebellion and guilt.
Mirza’s characters are stunningly empathetic. When a young Amar gets into a fight with a bigoted classmate, you feel his pain and loyalty to his family. When Rafiq forbids Hadia from going to a Sweet 16 party (because his daughter "does not go to parties"), you get all the teenaged angst feels.