8 Great Questions: Fatima Farheen Mirza

The debut novelist recalls an illustrated childhood favorite and underscores the value of journaling.

A Place for Us

Fatima Farheen Mirza’s A Place for Us is a deeply moving story of love, identity, and belonging, and the first novel published by Sarah Jessica Parker’s imprint, SJP for Hogarth. As an Indian wedding gathers a family back together, parents Rafiq and Layla must reckon with the choices their children have made: Hadia, their headstrong eldest daughter, whose marriage is a match of love and not tradition; Huda, the middle child, determined to follow in her sister’s footsteps; and Amar, their estranged son, who returns to the family for the first time in three years to take his place as brother of the bride.

A Place for Us takes us back to the beginning of this family’s life, from the bonds that bring them together to the differences that pull them apart. It’s wholly a book for our times, and a resonant portrait of what it means to be an American family today.

Recently, Fatima spoke with Read It Forward about the backbreaking weight of her to-read pile and why there’s never one perfect book to recommend to every reader.

Illustration: Lorenzo Gritti

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What’s the book on your bedside table?

Right now, I’m reading The Odd Woman and the City, a memoir by Vivian Gornick, and Writing by Marguerite Duras. I always carry two things at a time, sometimes more. At some point I have to tell myself, “No, this is not good for your back to be carrying this many books around.” I never know what I want to read, but I know one of the three things that I want to read, so I’ll just bring all of them.

What’s the one book you tell everyone to read?

In that moment, I’m always thinking of who’s asking, so I can’t think of one book.

What word do you love and why? What word do you hate and why?

I know immediately the word that I hate. People will say it, and it’ll hurt my ear: "ridonculous.” I hate that word. I don’t have one particular word that I love, but for many years there was one page in my journal dedicated to words I’d heard or read for the first time that I really liked.

What’s the one book you love to give as a gift and to whom do you give it?

I’ve loved giving James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. I’ve gifted it I don’t even know how many times.

What’s the one book you read as a kid that has stuck with you?

There’s one book I wish I could find, I had it when I was a very young kid, called Dudley Bakes a Cake. I loved the illustrations. It was gifted to me from one of my aunts in the UK. I've loved so many books, but I don't know if it's the book itself that has stayed with me or the feeling of reading them—the feeling of wanting to know what's happening next, and to stay up and be in your own world with it, just thinking, “Oh my god, there are so many possible lives.”

If you could only read one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

It's so hard because I’d be lost to myself if I couldn't read fiction. But I think I would have to say poetry.

Favorite independent bookstores from around the country?

I live in Brooklyn, really close to Greenlight Bookstore, so I love walking there on a free afternoon.

What’s the last book you read on a long flight?

There There by Tommy Orange. He's amazing.

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.
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