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Powerful book about the immigrant experience!

A Place for Us - Fatima Farheen Mirza

A Place For Us, Fatima Farheen Mirza, author; Deepti Gupta, Sunil Malhotra, narrators.

This is a very powerful book that examines family dynamics and relationships in a Muslim family whose origins began in India, but who now reside in America. They are, essentially, strangers in a strange land, and although the children were born in America, they remain strangers, as well, in many ways. 

Rafiq, alone, had settled in America and made a good life for himself. He offered a marriage proposal to Layla's parents, in India, and Layla accepted it. She was raised to be obedient. She understood that her life would be determined by her husband’s life. This was all that a Muslim woman in India could expect and hope for. She had no idea what would await her in America, and she only hoped that her husband would be kind and not quick to anger. She was raised to serve him and his family. 

Time passed and as their family grew, two daughters, Hadia and Huda, and a son, Amar, filled out their home. Although the marriage had been arranged, the two grew to care for each other and were happy. They lived a quiet life surrounded by friends who were similar to them in their views and lifestyle. They followed their religion, praying, obeying its laws and keeping the culture for themselves and their children.

However, life in America was different. It was more open. In school, the children were exposed to a less religious, less observant life. They began to feel different, and they began to want what the other children had in clothes, entertainment and opportunity. They wanted to belong. In their lifestyle, females were second class, but now their daughters wanted to have the same opportunities as sons. As their values, their religion and their culture were put to the test, Layla and Rafiq struggled to understand the problems they faced. They had no idea how to solve them. Their experience afforded them no ideas. The temptations here didn’t exist in their former lives. They did not know how to help or guide their children away from the temptations that would hurt them. They did not even recognize what was happening to their son when he became addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Sibling rivalry, inexperience, misunderstandings and sadly, ignorance, combined to create conflicts that could have been avoided had they had a better understanding of what was happening. Rafiq and Layla were naïve because these problems they faced were new to them. They were not problems in their former lives. In America, the rules were not so hard and fast and there was opportunity for abuse. Weakness and insecurity in a child inspired the disobedience and the need to escape what hurt them, by any means available. 

The author illustrated the difficulty of adjusting to a strange, new environment, exposing the pitfalls and the consequences of innocent ignorance. The problems faced when one was not accepted on the basis of merit, but rather was judged by appearance and background, are examined carefully by this author.  She illustrates the cultural divide and the bias that exists, even under the best of circumstances.

This Muslim family from India was upwardly mobile. They had identified with and accomplished the American dream without having to give up their culture, but the world, at large, and circumstances beyond their control, were interfering and complicating their simple way of life, making it harder for their children to accomplish the same dreams of their parents. 

When the book begins, Rafiq and Layla are celebrating the marriage of their eldest daughter, Hadia, to a man she has chosen herself, defying tradition. She is hoping her estranged brother, Amar, will arrive. When the book ends, her brother Amar, is still estranged from the family. What happens in between, as the recollections and memories of each member of the family is revealed, shines a light on the immigrant experience in America, in a new way.