Book Review: Ayesha at Last
Ayesha at Last
Written by Uzma Jalaluddin
Published by Corvus
Publication date: 4th April 2019
A big-hearted, captivating, modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice, with hijabs instead of top hats and kurtas instead of corsets.
AYESHA SHAMSI has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been overtaken by a demanding teaching job. Her boisterous Muslim family, and numerous (interfering) aunties, are professional naggers. And her flighty young cousin, about to reject her one hundredth marriage proposal, is a constant reminder that Ayesha is still single.
Ayesha might be a little lonely, but the one thing she doesn’t want is an arranged marriage. And then she meets Khalid… How could a man so conservative and judgmental (and, yes, smart and annoyingly handsome) have wormed his way into her thoughts so quickly?
As for Khalid, he’s happy the way he is; his mother will find him a suitable bride. But why can’t he get the captivating, outspoken Ayesha out of his mind? They’re far too different to be a good match, surely…
The idea of an arranged marriage had never bothered Khalid. A partner carefully chosen for him, just as his parents had been chosen for each other and their parents before them, seemed like a tidy practice. He liked the idea of being part of an unbroken chain that honoured tradition and ensured family peace and stability. He knew that some people, even his own sister, thought the practice of arranged marriage was restrictive, but he found it comforting. Romantic relationships and their accompanying perks were for marriage only.
First impressions: I was hooked instantly by the comparison to Pride and Prejudice, then fell for all of the characters instantly. Ayesha is a relatable character, with a sprawling extended family who all want to to get involved with her business. I loved the way both she and Khalid were introduced, Khalid’s unapologetic dedication to his faith, regardless of any difficulties it might cause him and Ayesha as she faces the challenge of her first day teaching high school students.
This is sure to be a hit and I can’t wait to read it!
Review: As you can see from my first impressions above, I was delighted when this landed on my doormat so I started reading straightaway.
There have been many retellings of Pride and Prejudice, but this is the first that I have seen that is a re-imagining with young Muslim protagonists living in Canada.
I read the first few chapters online and instantly connected with Ayesha. She is trying to do her best to please everyone in her life, and is still trying to figure out what she really wants in life. She has qualified as a teacher because that’s the kind of job that is socially acceptable and she can support her family with her income.
Khalid is our other main character. He seems deceptively simple at first, but has hidden depths. I liked seeing a Muslim character who actually engages regularly and thoughtfully with their faith – this became even more interesting when the author chose to look at how Khalid’s personal decisions about his faith could appear to others. Overall, the book had a lot of people making judgements about others and had a pervasive message that you can never judge someone’s actions or intentions without first taking the time to understand them.
A must-read for any fans of Pride and Prejudice, or anyone who needs a bit of romance in their lives!
Ayesha walked into the empty house in a daze, her feet stinging. She collapsed on the kitchen table, opened the notebook and started to write.
Things I should have said to you but only know how to write:
- I’m not who I never said I was.
- Not that I ever wanted to be.
- And yet that night, the stars twinkling, Twinkies in your beard,
- You smiled and leaned close.
- Sometimes these things happen.
- I hope you will be happy with her.
- The way you never could be with me.
- I’m not wifely material because
- I’m who I said I never was.
- And I’m not sure, yet, who that “was” could possibly turn out to be.
What I liked: I loved so many things about this novel! It was the perfect pick-me-up for a rainy day! Ayesha’s grandparents were amazing, realistic and warm characters, Ayesha’s friendship with Clara, the gentle, awkward romance and the fact that this book had so much more to it than just the love story.
Despite the fact that Ayesha and Khalid’s relationship starts with him believing that she is her cousin, Hafsa, I liked how the relationship progressed and was seen as health and respectful, even when they had disagreements.
Even better if: Packing so much into the book, though, also meant that it felt, at times, as if the story was jumping about a bit, particularly with the reveals of information about Khalid’s sister and Ayesha’s father coming so late in the story. Poor Khalid’s mum did not come off well and both Khalid’s boss and Clara’s boyfriend came across as little more than caricatures. Overall, though, this was a pleasant surprise to read as I enjoyed it so much! Any fans of Pride and Prejudice would definitely enjoy this!
How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a great follow-up to a study of Pride and Prejudice! There are so many retellings, but this is the top of the pile as far as I am concerned! It would also be interesting to use this to spark a discussion about diversity in books and publishing and why it is important to have narratives reflecting different realities. For anyone planning to use this in a secondary classroom, be aware that the language used by Khalid’s boss is Islamophobic, although it is obviously in the context of how difficult it is for Clara to reconcile her personal experience with growing up in a diverse neighbourhood and the extreme views sometimes seen in the media.
What did other bloggers think? (own voices)
Shireen Hakim @ShireenHakim said:
“This is the best Muslim/ South Asian romantic comedy book I have read, and I can see why it will be made into a film. It is refreshing to read a well-written traditional Muslim romance.”
Star @StarIsAllBookedUp said:
“I would recommend this to anyone who loves retellings (especially Pride and Prejudice), witty banter, self-actualizing characters, handsome misunderstood men, and some great Muslim/Desi representation!”
(Thank you to Corvus and Readers First for my competition win of a paperback copy!)
Thanks for reading!