Author Fatima Farheen Mirza’s magical debut novel, A Place for Us, hits bookstores nationwide on June 12. She tells the story of a Muslim Indian-American family of five, who collectively and individually struggle with the expectations of their heritage, along with death, dating, and opioid addiction. At its core, it’s a beautiful story of relationships, both between siblings, and between parents and children. Need more convincing? A Place for Us is the inaugural novel for Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint with Hogarth books, through which the actress will publish a handful of books each year. The debut author, 27, sits down the SJP to discuss.
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How would you summarize the story for our readers?
Sarah Jessica Parker: This is a book about a quintessentially American family. It’s a search for home, both metaphorically and literally. This is a story of people coming from far away and placing their hopes in an idea.
Fatima Farheen Mirza: Layla and Rafiq are immigrants from India, but their children are born [in America.] There’s no history for them but the one that they’re making together.
What’s the title mean to you?
FFM: When Amar is five, the children ask if they can go on a picnic. Hadia wants tangerines; Huma, lemonade; and Amar, a river. They all want such different things. Rafiq’s response is, “Let’s try. I might know a place for us.” That’s the one time where the title comes up in the text. It’s impossible for the wants and desires of these characters to coexist. But the title gestures: Maybe there’s a place, future, or way that we can come together.
SJP: One of the happiest scenes in when Rafiq shows them their first home. There’s so much joy and giddiness, which isn’t touched by worry. The title’s a destination point for everybody. Sometimes I think it’s as much for the reader as it is for the characters.
Why is this story important to you?
SJP: I was immediately drawn to this manuscript because it’s a book for our time, about our country now. This is the internal monologue that exists. It’s about experiences I will likely never have, but I am better for knowing them. Amar’s beat up at school when they tell him that his father looks like a terrorist. I can’t imagine internalizing that.
FFM: I want readers to feel like they’ve been allowed access to this family’s life for a decade, into very intimate moments between these characters.
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Which character do you sympathize with the most?
FFM: I had the most care and love for [the son] Amar, and the desire to understand him. Each of the characters revolves around him, trying to make sense of why he left. I go back to the scenes of their childhood, and he was touched by this darkness. They’re already worrying for him.
Which sections are the most powerful to you?
FFM: Any scene where the characters betray one another, or cut down their loved ones. Those moments were hardest for me. I knew how, in some ways, they’d never recover from those moments. I’d have to take a walk or call my mom, and say, “Mummy, I’m so heartbroken that the character acted in this way.” And she’s like, “Well, can you change it.” I’m like, “No, it has to happen.”
SJP: I asked Fatima the other day, “Do you think Amar is okay?” I think about him in the same way I think about Theo Decker in The Goldfinch. He stayed with me. It is such a big story, but it’s also about intimacy and the littlest things.
Where did these characters originate?
FFM: I share so much in common with these characters—both a similar culture, faith, and community—but the plot belongs to this family alone. I didn’t want to imagine my life in fiction form. I have three younger brothers. One said, “Fatima, it wasn’t until I read this that I realized how powerful it is seeing a life like mine reflected in fiction.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of ELLE.