A Place For Us

July 13, 2018

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

a place for us 2

Genre/Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Muslim, Family Life, Cultural Heritage

Summary:

A Place For Us shares the story of an Indian-American Muslim family whom we meet as they gather to celebrate a family wedding. Through flashbacks, readers are filled in on the family dynamics, family history, and become acquainted with the parents, Rafiq and Layla, and their three children, Hadia, Huda, and Amar. Told mostly from the perspectives of Layla, Hadia, and Amar, readers begin to appreciate the complexity of family relationships, understand the bonds that draw the family together, and become acquainted with the personalities along with the insecurities and rivalries that cause conflict. In light of the parents’ conservative Muslim faith and living in California, the children must find their way in reconciling the faith of their parents and their traditional ways with the reality of day-to-day lives, and individual hopes and dreams. At the wedding of the oldest daughter, which breaks with tradition and is a union of love and not arranged by parents, Amar, the prodigal son, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. The last part of the story is told from the father’s heartfelt perspective. This is a story of love, identity, parenting, coming of age, faith, and belonging. Amazon Rating (July early reviews): 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts:

This is by far the best story I’ve read this year! It shattered my 5 star rating scale! In addition to being a favorite this year, it will likely end up on my list of lifetime favorites. A Place For Us includes all the elements I really love in a great story; however, I know reading is personal and you may not feel the same.

Why all the love?

  • Two of the elements I love best in a great story are important themes and well drawn characters. This story features well-developed characters, complicated family dynamics, complex relationships, issues of faith, parenting woes and joys, diversity, moral dilemmas, regrets, compassion, grace, loyalty, finding one’s voice, etc. I love that at the end of conflict, misunderstanding, best intentions, and brokenness, there is grace and mercy and love.

What about the themes?

When I first considered the book, I wondered what I would have in common with a Muslim family and ended the read filled with compassion, empathy, and understanding…and thinking that we have more similarities than differences.  Here are some of the themes that were the most thought provoking:

  • Conservative religious values: I was raised in a conservative religious home and I relate to some of the concerns the children experience when reconciling the strict expectation of the parents with the secular culture in which they are growing up.
  • Parenting: worrying about each child for different reasons, striving to make things fair while meeting individual needs, trying one’s best (having good intentions) and still making mistakes, failure, heartache and grief if there’s estrangement, etc.
  • A woman’s independence and voice in a male dominated culture.
  • Parents that are broken by regret and grief.
  • Children seeking parental approval and blessing.
  • Sibling competition, achievement, support, loyalty.
  • A parent’s helplessness and concern over a struggling child.
  • A young adult’s need to differentiate from the family.
  • Fathers that are broken by regret and grief.
  • Traditions.
  • Faith
  • Prodigal son.
  • The immigrant experience causes me to consider what my great grandparents faced as immigrants.

What did I appreciate?

I appreciate the multi faceted, multi layered, kind, insightful, compassionate, and gentle look at family and faith. I find it refreshing that it wasn’t a dysfunctional family….just a real one with authentic and relatable problems. At the end, though, it seems like it’s the son’s story (Amar), and I’d love a sequel!

Favorite Quote:

“Of all my mistakes the greatest, the most dangerous, was not emphasizing the mercy of God.”  ~Rafiq

Recommended:

I highly recommend A Place For Us for readers who love well written, thoughtful, and poignant family drama, for those who desire more diversity in their reading life or for those who are in a Muslim family, and for readers who don’t want to miss out on one of the most talked about and highly rated books of the year.

What I’d like you to know, though, is that the author’s use of flashbacks makes the reader work hard in the beginning to construct understanding as the flashbacks move swiftly from character to character and hop between time periods; one reviewer remarks that it is like looking through a kaleidoscope and every time it turns we see the story change, creating a new picture that allows readers to see different facets that provide a deeper understanding. It was my experience that as the story progressed and I became more comfortable with the author’s style and became better acquainted with the characters, the reading became easier.

My Rating: 5+ Stars

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a place for us

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Meet the Author, Fatima Farheen Mirza

fatima farheen mirza

Fatima Farheen Mirza was born in 1991 and raised in California. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship.

 

 



Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text



My Summer TBR

I’ll be updating my Summer TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!
(So far I’ve read a handful, some I’ve been more thrilled with than others, and I’ve only abandoned one)



Two Links I Love:

Castle of Water, a favorite read from last year, as been picked up for a movie!

The Novel Endeavor: Summer Reading Guide For Families: Adoption Stories



Looking Ahead:

 For the remainder of July I’m expecting to review The Widows of Malabar Hill, provide a July wrap up, choose the most compelling character from July reading, and also anticipate my first blogiversary with a give away (tbd).

the widows of malabar hill

Amazon Information Here



Sharing is Caring

Thank you for reading today! I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



 Let’s Discuss!

What are some of the most memorable family stories that you’ve read? Do you enjoy or seek out diverse reads?

What are you reading this week?



***Blogs posts may contain affiliate links. This means that at no extra cost to you, I can earn a small percentage of your purchase price. This money will be used to offset the costs of running a blog and to sponsor giveaways, etc.

Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.

Book Cover and author photo are credited to Amazon or an author’s website.

 

 

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Rash: A Memoir

April 20, 2018

Rash: A Memoir
by Lisa Kusel

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Genre/categories: memoir, Indonesia, travel, expat

Summary:

In the midst of living a comfortable life in California, Lisa Kusel encourages her husband to consider a teaching position at an international school in Bali. In six weeks, the family makes a “rash” and radical move to “paradise.” Looking for happiness and inspiration for writing, all Lisa finds in Bali are challenges that threaten her peace of mind, her marriage, her husband’s professional happiness, and her daughter’s safety. Throughout her candid, engaging, and well-told memoir, Lisa explores the difficulties of relocation and assimilation into a different culture and the pursuit of happiness. Adding to the pressure, Lisa’s husband’s position as a teacher in a start up international school is not all that had been promised. Will Lisa find happiness? Amazon (early reviews) 4.8 Stars

My Thoughts:

“Eat, Love, Pray” gone wrong…

The grass is always greener…

No matter where you go, there you are…

Privilege….

Memoirs always intrigue me! Thank you to Lisa Kusel for sending me her memoir in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

How many times have we each thought how much happier we’d be if only…. If only I had a different house….. If only I could lose 10 pounds….. If only I could take a vacation this year…… If only I could win the lottery…..  If only…..

This was Lisa’s frame of mind as she contemplated a move to Bali:

“I would reinvest myself. I would find contentment. I would be present. Victor and I would fall in love all over again. Bali would make that happen. Bali. How tropical and flowery that sounded. Yes, if we moved to Bali, all would be light and golden and I’d……..

I think if I moved to Bali, I’d learn how to stop searching for something new all the time and be grateful for what I have.”

Although I have enough life experience to predict where this memoir would likely lead, I was pleasantly surprised by the conversational, casual, chatty, and witty writing style. Lisa has an incredible ability to tell an engaging story filled with humorous details and vivid descriptions. Reading it felt like meeting her for coffee and hearing the story in person. On a few occasions, I laughed out loud. My only difficulty with the narrative was her use of profanity. I realize that this is a personal preference and that other readers may be fine with it; however, I prefer to experience a more limited use of profanity in my reading.

Readers who have expat experiences or have visited Bali (not the resorts) may find this memoir especially interesting as Lisa provides a great deal of cultural details and observations in her honest and reflective narrative.

While Lisa’s husband and five-year-old daughter take cultural adjustments in stride and try to make the best of a difficult and new situation, Lisa dwells in unhappiness. She fears that they might have made a “rash” decision to relocate to Bali but also worries that her daughter might develop a “rash” indicating dengue fever. Lisa’s excessive and persistent unhappiness and her inability to assimilate lead to tension in her marriage and a less than positive reputation among the locals and the school staff. Readers can appreciate her predicament based on her idea that moving to Bali would make her a happier person. Many of us realize that circumstances cannot provide real happiness because it’s an inner state of being. Can one choose to be happy in a difficult cultural environment and in a less than ideal living situation?

I appreciate the author’s honest reflections and her struggle toward rediscovering happiness:

“When had I stopped being just happy? …..  I’d been moody. Too quick to anger and accusation. I was often a dark presence, hovering over Victor’s life like a bitch balloon; a Pigpen cloud of ugliness following me around. Sometimes, I remembered, no one, not even me, wanted to be with me……I no longer knew how to appreciate all that was good and beautiful in my life. I was stuck. Could that be why I was so desperate to move to Bali?”

Have you, too, chased happiness? I think the theme of happiness is one to which most us can relate. In my younger years, as a mom with littles, struggling along trying to make ends meet on my husband’s meager salary, I remember thinking one Sunday that if only we had money to go to a fast food place for tacos after church (as many of my friends did) that I’d be happy. It seemed like that would be the secret to my happiness and a well-lived life. I wasn’t asking to win the lottery–just a few cheap tacos. I was sure that the happiness quotient of my life would greatly increase when we could drive through and get tacos after church instead of going home to make lunch. I clearly remember feeling cheated and miserably sorry for myself.

In addition to a theme of happiness, there is also the theme of cultural differences and privilege. As the author describes the Bali culture in great detail, readers can imagine themselves living in that environment. Lisa has a difficult time accepting the lack of air conditioning and flushing toilets, windowless huts, inadequate medical care, spotty electricity and internet, etc that she is privileged to have access to in the U.S. I follow the blog of a missionary in Haiti and she often writes about her happiness and contentment factor and cultural assimilation as she reflects on safety concerns and what her family may be missing by not living in the U.S. Her family proactively works on creating experiences within the Haiti culture that will meet the needs of their growing family. I admire expats who experience a few rough years of adjustment in the beginning and can create a lifestyle of contentment and happiness despite very difficult circumstances. Lisa reminds us of the challenge.

“I must stop looking to others for happiness. It’s right here, always available for the taking, and I have to stop blaming Victor and the rest of the planet’s inhabitants for any and all that goes wrong. There was only this one moment. This now. And I needed to embrace it.”

In the memoir, Lisa comes to an intellectual grasp of happiness; however, she falls short of showing the reader what that looks like in her life when she returns to the U.S. I wonder today if she is truly happy. Is she able to put into practice the insights she gained? Can happiness be learned through disciplined practice or will it always elude us?

Rash: A Memoir is recommended for readers who appreciate candid, reflective writing exploring themes of happiness and cultural differences, for expats (especially those who have lived or traveled in Bali), and for readers who love engaging memoirs.  ***Language***

My Rating: 4 Stars

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rash

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Meet the Author, Lisa Kusel

lisa kuselLisa was born in New Jersey two miles from where Thomas Alva Edison first recorded sound. She went to college and studied biology and theater arts. She went to graduate school and studied environmental anthropology. After years of writing copy for non-profits, selling surplus cosmetics in Russia, and living off rich married men, she accepted an editorial position at that little-known Open Office competitor, Microsoft. There she created MATTER, the company’s first online magazine read by the 34 people who were patient enough to wait the twelve minutes it took the GIFs to download through their 56K modems.

She got married. Left Microsoft. Went to Africa. Moved back to California. She wrote two books: “Other Fish in the Sea” and “Hat Trick.” Wrote another one after that about WWII–not yet published. Then she moved to Bali to save her wounded marriage, and wrote a memoir about her time there. It’s called “Rash,” and it’s a funny poignant tale about a woman who mistakenly believes that running away to paradise is the only way to find true happiness.

She presently lives in Vermont, where she is writing her first young adult novel. Follow her writing at http://www.lisakusel.com. Feel free to drop her a line at lisakusel<@>gmail.com because she loves to hear other people’s stories.



Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection!
Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text



Extra:
The Room on Rue Amelie by Kristin Harmel

room on rue Amelie

“Cruelty is the weapon of the ignorant.”

If you’re looking for an easy reading WW11 histfic selection, you might enjoy “The Room on Rue Amelie, a story of people who see injustice and have the courage to stand up and fight against it. For me, it was mediocre compared with other reads in the same genre. Although the dialogue could have been better written and the events better developed, the topic of rescuing downed English pilots over war town France was interesting and seemed to be well researched. I felt that the insta love story lines (2 of them!) were definite weak points of the story (insta love is more common in the YA genre and is usually stereotypical). Even though I would rate the writing 2.5 and skimmed several sections, I’ve rounded this to 3 stars for a compelling topic. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read.

My Rating: 3 stars

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Buy Here



Links I Love:

Modern Mrs Darcy: 15 Literary Novels That Will Have You Compulsively Turning The Pages
(How many have you read? Even though this genre is made up, it’s my favorite: great unputdownable literature!  I’ve read 6 on the list [some I liked better than others: e.g Homegoing, The Mothers, and Little Fires were my favorites; I DNF Americanah]. I would add News of the World to this list!)

The Novel Endeavor: A Gift Giving Round-Up For Book Lovers



Looking Ahead:

Next week, I’ll be highlighting my favorite, most compelling character from my April reading and offering a Link Up opportunity.



Sharing is Caring

I’d be honored and thrilled if you choose to enjoy and follow along, promote, and/or share my blog. Every share helps us grow.



 Let’s Discuss!

I’d love to hear all about what you’re reading!

What are your reflections on finding happiness? Do you think it’s found within or can it be chased?