Contemporary Literature · Retellings · Romance

Ayesha at Last

A few months ago, I got approved for this ARC through NetGalley and, though it took me quite some time to finally read it, I am still so glad I got it. Plus, and this is the important thing, I’m done on time for the publication day (TODAY) – so go me!

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

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Ayesha is old to be unmarried, according to tradition in her Muslim community. She’s independent and outspoken and her mother’s grief when her own husband passed years ago has made her wary of love. Khalid is conservative and traditional, living with his mother and ready for/trusting her to arrange his marriage to the right woman. They are each dealing with their individual life stressors; Ayesha with her spoiled younger cousin and finding her own dreams, Khalid with a horrible boss and an estranged sister. When they meet and end up planning a conference for their mosque together, their first interactions are less than smooth, but then…the proverbial sparks start to fly.

“Because while it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: To his Indian mother, his own inclinations are of secondary importance.”

This was marketed as a modern-day Pride and Prejudice retelling (the obvious reason why I first requested to read this, because as we all know, I love retellings of my favorite classics). And it delivered on that front perfectly. There were some gorgeous parallels to the original story – Ayesha in particular was a phenomenal Elizabeth Bennet. And I loved the way her four cousins mirrored Elizabeth’s sisters; it was a great little spin. Hafsa, in particular, was a nice stand-in for Jane and Lydia combined: similar in closeness/camaraderie, yet with a spoiled brashness. Again, I liked that spin. Khalid was also a great Mr. Darcy, I thought. Similar to the original, he was too fast to judge, austere and spare with his words/feelings, yet the manner of his judgement, religious/traditional, was a little different than the class/social judgement we saw with Darcy. The last character parallels I really want to point out are that Khalid’s mom was the perfect Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Masood was a hilarious Mr. Collins. And I enjoyed the additions of Ayesha’s friend Clara – her boyfriend troubles and her workplace interactions with Khalid – and Khalid’s workplace “friend,” Amir. Those storylines added some nice extra layers and modern twists to the storyline.

“You don’t need to be married to matter, you don’t need a man’s attention to be loved and you don’t need to run away to teach us a lesson.”

As far as other elements go, I loved the diversity in this romantic comedy/drama. There are very few big publisher contemporary romances that focus primarily on minority characters. However, I do feel like this is changing, moving in the right direction, with big recent releases like The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory and The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (both of whom have since published follow-ups, but I haven’t had a chance to read them yet!). Anyways, this was not only diverse based on race, but also explored a really controversial and misunderstood/judged religious tradition: Islam and arranged marriages. I actually just recently read another contemporary romance that explored this topic, The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli. However, if you read my review, I definitely had some mixed feelings about that novel. This one, on the other hand, was so much more. It looked at arranged marriages with a critical, but even-keeled eye, really giving the reader insight to a much-maligned cultural practice. One thing I actually liked better than the original is that we get this story in multiple perspectives, both Ayesha and Khalid, as well as, for short parts, Ayesha’s grandparents. One of my biggest complaints with the original P&P, and many books from that time period (i.e. Jane Eyre), is that we don’t get any “inside Darcy’s/Rochester’s head” sections. Seeing what all the characters are thinking/experiencing was definitely a perk for me. Anyways, speaking of Ayesha’s grandparents, they were adorable. I loved them both. Her grandfather was just the cutest ever – his obsession with Shakespeare and the way he has a quote for advice in every occasion was absolutely a fun little quirk/affectation.

“Sometimes there were no words, only sunshine on your heart.”

Basically, this loose P&P retelling, set in a Muslim community in Canada, was everything I was looking for. Fast and light, with comedy and drama, fun obvious (and subtle) references back to the original story, and some great cultural insight. I really enjoyed reading it…so much so that I was done in almost one day. I definitely recommend this one as a summer contemporary romance (the season for that type of novel if there ever was one), which is perfect because it comes out in June! In fact, it’s officially published today (the 4th), so head over to your local bookstore or library to pick it up!

 

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