AYESHA AT LAST
by Uzma Jalaluddin
Release Date: June 4, 2019
Reviewed by Hellie
Reviewed by Hellie
I am a sucker for a twist on Pride & Prejudice (or a Beatrice & Benedick, where I think the whole trope of pride and prejudice first went viral when it came to romantic pairings.) Therefore when I saw a summer beach read list that said, “It’s a Muslim Pride & Prejudice,” I bought it immediately. I did not regret my purchase--even though I am rather stingy when it comes to trade paperbacks--and I lapped up every page of mistaken identity, Pride & Prejudice ‘I-Know-It!’ scene, and immersive detail that felt like I was invited into my Muslim neighbor’s home for some samosas and gossip. It was by turns hilarious and farcical, and also uncomfortable and real. It was one of those experiences where you thought you’d just enjoy it for its own sake, but came out learning so much more.
Blurb: Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejectng her hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid, who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices, and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.
When a surprise engagement is announced between Khalid and Hafsa, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.
Khalid is not your usual romantic hero in the romance cover sense. While he is honorable, kind, smart, a loving son and brother, hardworking, and funny, he is also uber-religious, has a long beard, and wears robes instead of more modern apparel. I think the author did a clever twist in that Khalid tapped into the prejudices readers would associate with the original Mr. Darcy (OMG, the things that come out of his mouth!), but his outer appearance as well as his conservative behavior tapped into the reader’s prejudice of what one thinks of a fundamentalist Muslim. It certainly made me consider my own prejudices--or assumptions--and after a while, the beard grew on me. Khalid really was a dreamy romantic hero worth rooting for.
Ayesha is lovely and amazing--the best kind of heroine in my book: beautiful, smart, sassy, kind, hilarious, and brave. She’s the heroine of a thousand books--and many of my friends. She was easy to relate to and see in the world, a well-rounded character. The author also does a great job of creating secondary characters that also reflect other romantic ideals of love. Ayesha’s grandparents are adorable and in love. Ayesha’s best friend Clare and her boyfriend, Rob, are also loving and complicated. Khalid’s sister and her husband--a surprising couple. Love comes in many ways, in its own time.
But it’s not all lovey-dovey romance. Oh, no. This is a close community with lots of aunties and arranged marriages and teas. There is gossip, there is pettiness, there is revenge. It’s by turns horrifying and hilarious. And again, it feels very much like Everyman because we’ve all belonged to these communities who are all up in everyone’s business, causing more drama than was ever needed but entertaining everyone just the same.
If you’re as much a fan of Pride & Prejudice as I am, I suggest giving this one a try. While there is no ‘wet shirt’ scene to swoon over, there is a scene between Ayesha and Khalid after they have a date (of sorts) that positively burned up the page. Pure romance and top dish!