I’m not usually not very keen on reading alternative updated versions of classic novels, but this modern treatment of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was a revelation. It’s set in present-day Toronto, Canada, in an Indian Muslim community. Ayesha is a teacher in her twenties, not really looking for a husband, but becoming involved in her younger cousin Hafsa’s love life. She’s becoming appalled at Hafsa’s casual rejection of all the prospective husbands put forward by her mother. Khalid, the Darcy of the book, is one of these possible bridegrooms. His interactions with Ayesha and Hafsa, including a case of mistaken identity, form the basis of the story.
Khalid is an strict Muslim, insisting on wearing traditional dress and a full beard to his job in IT. Ayesha, in contrast, is a career-minded woman, and a performance poet in the evenings, definitely not a stereotypical Muslim woman, and her life not one that Khalid approves of. But when Ayesha and Khalid both get involved in social activities at the mosque, there is definitely a spark between them.
This leads to a very readable and amusing story with much to admire. I enjoyed the descriptions of all aspects of modern Muslim life, including the dubious uses the less religious men found for the internet! The story is quite faithful to Pride and Prejudice in some ways. For example, Khalid’s sister, Zareena, has been led astray by the villain of the story, Tarek, disgraced and sent back to India. But the most pleasing aspect of the book is the cultural similarity to Austen’s England, the marriage market with powerful mothers plotting all the time to marry off their sons and daughters to suitable partners.
I recommend this book for its involving plot, lightness of tone and cast of interesting and well-rounded characters. Perhaps the story does lose a bit of pace in the middle and the ending is a bit rushed. It’s perhaps not an ideal reading group choice, but it’s perfect for an enjoyable summer read.
Sue Glynn 3*
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Corvus 9781786497949 pbk Apr 2019