The Fashion Magpie A Place for Us

Magpie Book Club: Fatima Mirza’s A Place for Us.

First up: next month’s book club will be Madeline Miller’s Circe.  This book is getting all kinds of buzz.  The premise is compelling: it’s a retelling of the story of the mythical goddess Circe, a powerful though ancillary character we know from The Odyssey.  We’ve read up and down the genres so far in this book club: a blend of fantasy/sci-fi/something else in All The Names They Used for God, memoir-ish (?? can I stake that claim?) in Florida, mystery/thriller in My Cousin Rachel, and family-centric drama novel in A Place for Us.  Reading a modern-day interpretation of a myth should be interesting.  (And I’m course intrigued by the re-framing of a narrative around the female experience.)  Let’s plan to finish by October 23rd.  In-person book-club members: stay tuned on location for our next convening; I have a feeling it will be too cold to convene in Sheep Meadow!

Book Review: Fatima Mirza’s A Place for Us.

Four stars.  This book is triumphant in its representation of the minutiae of family dynamics, the small nothings and not-nothings that we exchange and share together, the minor events that turn major in our memories (and vice versa), the experiences that shape our perspectives of one another and impair or enhance our relationships.  I found myself nodding along — yes, yes!  I have felt that before!  That, exactly that!  There was a piquant truthfulness to everything she wrote: it was all wholly believable; nothing felt shaped by authorial intent or plot convenience.

I could not award it a fifth star, however, because I found the place glacial to the point of tedious.  The entire fourth section of the book is a string of memories and snapshots told from the perspective of the father and while it brings the book full circle, I found myself skimming sections, exhausted by the recursiveness: “Oh no, not another: One day not long ago, Baba had…”  At some point, the layering of small memories felt excessive, even dull.  I hate to admit it, but at some point, I went from exulting in the everyday-ness and relatability of the story and its characters to pondering, “OK…what’s so special about this family?  This is the picture of any family, or every family, and while I get the intent here — we’re all so similar, yes! — at some point, the portrait has lost my interest.”  There’s a scene in the fourth part where the father is looking in through the window of the kitchen, observing his family preparing for dinner.  There was absolutely nothing remarkable about the scene, or about the writing, and I just thought: “This is kind of like watching reality tv, but for someone totally uninteresting.”  (Eeesh, sorry if that’s harsh.)

All that said, I do think that Mirza achieves something miraculous in the summation of this book: she proved to me just how similar a Muslim family is to a Catholic one, or, I would imagine, to a Jewish one, to a non-denominational one, to an atheist one, etc.  I wrote about this point in my essay on siblinghood (#sob), but the book demonstrates that we are more the same than different: our families experience the the same clashes, the same anxieties, the same issues of togetherness and exclusion and  identity and independence.

Fatima Mirza’s A Place for Us Discussion Questions.

+Why do you think Mirza uses the third person omniscient in this book, until the final chapter, which is told solidly in the father’s voice?  (Third person omniscient is the narrator is able to penetrate the thoughts and feelings of all of the characters in the story.)  Why not first person from one character’s perspective, or switching between perspectives in each chapter?  What does this achieve?  And why the shift at the very end?
+What did you make of the title?
+Which character did you relate to the most, and why?  Were you empathetic to all of the characters, or were some of them more difficult to like or accept than others?
+Why did Mirza jump around in chronology?  What was the effect for you as a reader?  Specifically, think about Amar’s campaign for a pair of fancy running shoes.  Why was it told as it was?
+What did you feel about the gender dynamics in the book?  How were women treated, both by the author and by the characters themselves?

Next Up on the Reading List…

+Juicy nonfiction: Currently reading this and it is SCANDALOUS.  I actually wanted to nominate this book for October book club but generally feel that non-fiction books make for tough conversation in a book club forum.  Fiction works better in my experience.

+Juicy fiction: Underwriting by Michelle Miller.  Described as “a tantalizing glimpse into the boardrooms and bedrooms of six young hopefuls behind a Silicon Valley IPO that will launch them into the exclusive world of the über-wealthy—if it doesn’t destroy them first. Each of them is looking for success, but they may have to nail more than the deal to get to the top.”  Um, yaaaas.  This will be brilliant coming off the heels of Bad Blood.

+Serious writing: There There by Tommy Orange.  The story of “twelve unforgettable characters, Urban Indians living in Oakland, California, who converge and collide on one fateful day.”  There has been (in my opinion) a resurgence of interest in the contemporary West and its complicated history with Native Americans.  This seems like important reading.

Post Scripts.

+I am absolutely dying over this striped/belted shirtdress.  Perfect for work and it has such a fab Gucci vibe, but rings in at under $100.  YAS.

+Love the color of this elegant wool coat.  Feels like it should be worn with this, a la a Hitchock heroine!

+

+Speaking of Hitchcock heroines, love this linen shirtdress.  So Grace Kelly!  Would look great with the top handle bag above and these penny loafers.

+Love the “night night” embroidery on these jammies.

+Swooning over the elegant bedding from Angela Wickstead.

+An elegant silk shantung blouse heavily discounted!  Would look so lovely with white/cream pants or skirt.

+I absolutely adore this pleated white swing dress.  Would look so smart with a pair of Gucci loafers.

+We need more storage in our shower, but I had thought the configuration of spigots/nozzles would make it impossible.  Then I found this.

+Literary life raft.

14 Comments

  1. Sadly, A Place For Us didn’t come up in my library hold queue yet so I didn’t read along this time. Also I am still plodding through Middlemarch so I don’t need readerly temptations to distract me!! Do you listen to What Should I Read Next podcast? So good! I discovered it recently and am enjoying working my way backwards through several years of old episodes.

  2. Bad Blood was so good! I just finished Who Thought This Was a Good Idea on the plane to/from Charleston this weekend and it was a fantastic non-fiction book. I found myself highlighting sections.

  3. I enjoyed A Place for Us but the pace of the storytelling was dreadfully slow. I described it to a friend as “a slow burn that never really ignites a fire.” However, I thought the story was ultimately an extremely important reminder that we are all the same.

  4. I always find it so interesting to see how different people react to books! That why I love conversations about books so much 🙂 I adored the fourth part of “A Place for Us” and thought the whole book (while admittedly tedious in places) was worth it just to read the last quarter. I do agree, however, that the plot was fairly slow.

    1. SO TRUE. I just got back from book club and was astounded by all of the different observations and reactions presented by my lovely book club members (seriously the smartest, most insightful bunch of readers I’ve ever met). I found that two readers bawled through long sections of the book — which shocked me because I am a quick cry but I didn’t shed a tear! And then there were others who liked/hated certain aspects that I did not at all react strongly to. So fascinating. There was a consensus towards the end of our book club that we were unsure why we ended with Baba’s voice. Yes, it brought the book full circle and gave us a completely different
      view, but why did he get the final word? Out of all the characters? Were we meant to forgive him? We were undecided…

      xoxo

  5. A Place for Us is still intriguing to me — I’ve been awful about (virtually) keeping up with your book club, but Circe looks so interesting as well! I am currently reading Our Little Racket, which is about one family’s experience during the 2008 financial crash. It’s slow going, though I’ve only just begun. I need to go through my to-read pile and see if there are any other gems to be found! I have such a problem with buying books & then shelving them to be read at a later date. I am omnivorous when it comes to books and find it so hard to resist a good one!

    1. No worries! Maybe you can use my reviews as an accelerator or decelerator for certain books on the list. I would say skip this one and read one of the earlier titles we covered. Sachdeva’s is unmissable in my opinion. xo

  6. Circe looks really interesting – I will try to read it with you all, although virtually! Even if my book backlog grows by the minute.

    As soon as I read, “Hitchcock heroine”, my mind went straight to Grace Kelly. In my adventures in unpacking, I found a coffee table/photo book about her that I bought years ago. It was really interesting to read through it again, and learn about Hitchcock’s fascination (crush?) with her. AND about her somewhat “normal” upbringing and family in Philadelphia (did you know she and Prince Rainier used to visit from Monaco to have BBQs with her family in the U.S.? Just seemed so “royalty, they’re just like us!). Anyway, I think I need to revisit her as style muse!

    1. The ULTIMATE MUSE for sure!! I had no idea about Grace and her “down home BBQs” — ha. I will say that my father had a huge crush on her growing up and wrote her a piece of fan mail. She (or her people) sent back a signed photograph of her! So elegant.

      xo

    2. Quick follow-up comment – I love that Gal Meets Glam dress! But the belted 1901 dress – beware!! It was in my Trunk Club trunk, and I looked ridiculous in it lol. The sleeves – and the whole dress, really – have a lot of volume.

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