A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding – a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that lead to their son’s estrangement – the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children; and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from.
In a narrative that spans decades and sees family life through the eyes of each member, A Place For Us charts the crucial moments in the family’s past, from the bonds that bring them together to the differences that pull them apart. And as siblings Hadia, Huda, and Amar attempt to carve out a life for themselves, they must reconcile their present culture with their parent’s faith, to tread a path between the old world and the new, and learn how the smallest decisions can lead to the deepest of betrayals.
Beautifully written, A Place for Us, is a sentimental, heartbreaking story of family and addiction steeped in strong cultural values.
Afsoos was the word in Urdu. There was no equivalent in English. It was a specific kind of regret—not wishing he had acted differently, but a helpless sadness at the situation as it was, a sense that it could not have been another way.
The narrative meanders through this Indian-American Muslim family’s memories of small moments and special occasions with respect and honesty. Each perspective brings its own lens of gender and upbringing, so every memory is viewed from many angles. As immigrants, Rafiq and Layla’s priorities are family, tradition, and safety. As first generation Americans, Hadia, Huda, and Amar struggle to balance family expectations and the opportunities available to them in the US. As political and societal climates change around them, every action and choice is considered carefully to contemplate the potential consequences and outcomes.
And nothing compares to the promise of stepping into a classroom knowing she will step out a different person. That she could learn something that would change the way she saw the whole world, and her place in it. There is even the private hope that if she does work as hard as she absolutely can, there is a chance she will be able to sway the outcome of her life, and maybe one day a door will be presented to her, and an opportunity to walk through it.
These memories are examined seemingly haphazardly and out of order. However, as the story comes together, it becomes clear they have been orchestrated to pull on the heartstrings, manipulating the sentimentality of these moments wrought with tension and misunderstanding. It all leads to part four, arguably my favourite part, entirely from Rafiq’s perspective.
Rafiq remains fairly aloof in the first three parts of A Place for Us. However, part four is entirely his rambling, nostalgic thoughts, providing incredible insight into this man trying to raise his children, support his wife, and meet all the expectations of his community, religion, and culture.
I had a beard, a modest one. I had my face. I had my name with the hard ending. That was my fight: to continue to do little things for people around me, so no one would find fault in my demeanor and misattribute it to my religion.
The only downfall to this type of storytelling is that by the end, it felt repetitive. While each perspective added nuance and complexity, it’s still the same memory being retold.
What was it about an apology that was so difficult? It always felt like it cost something personal and precious. Only now that she was a mother was she so aware of this: the stubbornness and pride that came with being human, the desire to be loyal and generous that came too, each impulse at odds with the other.
A Place for Us is an intricate story addressing familial, religious, cultural, and racial matters with compassion by characters who clearly care for each other. As much as I wished for closure, the openness of the narrative was refreshing and honest. Following this family through three generations was a true pleasure.