“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 Brown Baggers met on Thursday, August 15 to discuss Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel, A Place for Us.

place for usA Place for Us tells the story of a Muslim Indian American family and their close-knit community in California. The novel opens at the wedding of the oldest daughter, Hadia, where her estranged brother, Amar, also the youngest child and only son, has returned after a long absence. As Mirza goes back and forth in time and alternates points of view, the reader learns why Amar has been gone for so long and the ups and downs that led this family to gather at Hadia’s wedding.

The Brown Baggers had a generally positive reaction to the novel. One member remarked that it was the best fiction they had read in years. Others said they recognized their own family members in the characters and were emotionally moved when the point of view shifted towards the father. Some noted a few stylistic flaws in the novel that they attributed to the author’s young age and inexperience. One of the biggest criticisms was the novel’s unconventional structure. As Mirza weaves through the chronology of events and changes perspectives, the reader can get easily confused about dates and characters.

Despite these quirks, all were impressed by how Mirza captured the story of immigration, particularly how different generations of this Muslim American family assimilated. The parents hold fast to their faith and the old world. The children, on the other hand, feel more inclined to create their own identities and embrace the new world while still respecting their heritage. As a result, each family member relates to their faith and culture differently, thus revealing the power of community and the uniqueness of the immigrant story.

Mentioned:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company That Addicted America by Beth Macy

Islamic Society of Central Virginia

The Brown Baggers will discuss The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian on Thursday, September 19 at noon in the Central Library and newcomers are always welcome.

“I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t an outcast. I was everywhere with everybody, and at the same time I was all by myself.”

bornacrimeThe Brown Baggers met on Thursday, July 18 to discuss Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime.

In Born a Crime, Trevor Noah recounts his childhood in South Africa under the apartheid government and the first few years of democratic rule by the nation’s black majority. His is the story of a disobedient young boy who had to hide from the world during the early years of his life since the government could take him from his mother if they were discovered. Noah tells stories from his childhood and high school years with a humorous twist. He describes visiting three churches every Sunday with his mother, being pushed out of a moving car, and navigating high school. Noah writes about how he struggled to fit in and how he always felt like an outsider.

The Brown Baggers loved this book and the discussion was full of laughter as members recounted their favorite parts of the book. Many felt that it was incredible how Noah was able to learn so many languages and become such an international star, when he had so little growing up and faced numerous challenges. Some Brown Baggers thought his success was due to his mother’s influence, who was such a strong person, and really pushed him to learn.

Some members said that they learned more about South Africa in general and about apartheid after reading this autobiography. They felt that Noah used humor to cope with everything that happened in his life and thought it was amazing that he was so observant, especially when he was so young. Others mentioned that this was a great story of survival.

Mentioned:
Documentary: You Laugh But It’s True
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
The Kitchen House by Kathleeen Grissom
Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculee Ilibagiza
The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer
Nelson Mandela

The Brown Baggers will discuss A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza on Thursday, August 15 at noon in the Central Library and newcomers are always welcome.

“It was easier to lie when you believed the lie.”

boyerasedBooks on Tap read Boy Erased by Garrard Conley at Champion Brewery on June 6, a memoir of Conley’s time in the Love in Action gay conversion therapy center after his first year of college. Conley describes being raised in a religious bubble with a larger-than-life father who is leading his own church when Conley is outed by his rapist. 

We acknowledged that we were probably not Conley’s intended audience but we were taken by the painful choice he lays out between being true to his religion and family expectations or actually being himself. Conley skips between time periods, which we found confusing and we would have liked more explanation of the institute he was enrolled in and an epilogue to bridge the end of the book with his much different current life. We were most taken by the author’s relationship to his parents. His mother genuinely likes him while his father seems afraid that he’ll fall off the right path. Conely is sympathetic to the ways in which his grandfather’s alcoholism and abuse color his own father’s view on life and parenthood. In fact, it was the realization that he didn’t hate his father that helped Conley leave Love in Action with his mother’s support. 

We would recommend this memoir to teens and parents of teens who are coming out. Below is a list of books that contained similarities. 

More Information:
About the author 
About the book
Author’s podcast 
Movie adaptation 

Related Titles:
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Educated by Tara Westover 
Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak 
Celebrating the Third Place 

 Books on Tap Information:

  • July 4 No meeting

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