Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Review: Ayesha at Last

Title: Ayesha at Last
Author: Uzma Jalaluddin
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Retelling
Release Date: June 12, 2018
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Ayesha Shamsi is busy- she's put aside her poetry for a job as a substitute teacher in order to pay back her wealthy uncle. She's also agreed to help her cousin Hafsa arrange a much-needed fundraiser for the community mosque. Hafsa is flighty, and currently more interested in shopping and gathering offers of marriage numbering in the dozens than planning an event. Compared to Hafsa, Ayesha knows she's the responsible, more reserved older cousin, a much less appealing prospect- not that Ayesha wants an arranged marriage but she's also not keen to spend the rest of her life alone. When she meets Khalid (and despite his making a truly terrible first impression) she starts to hope... only for him to wind up engaged to Hafsa. 

Out of Ten: 7/10

Review at a Glance: A fun and thoughtful adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel set in Toronto's Muslim community.

Review: I am weak for Pride and Prejudice twists. So when I heard about this, I was so excited- P&P retelling set in Toronto's Muslim community by a Canadian author! I don't live in Toronto so my familiarity with Toronto's Muslim community is passing, drawn mainly from my roommate's stories about her family and their (somewhat Austen novel-esque, ironically enough) experiences. Uzma Jalaluddin offers a vivid portrait of Ayesha's multi-generational family and the close (and sometimes complicated) ties between them.

I also really liked any and all scenes where food was being prepared because. I'm a fan of food. But also because it reminds me what I like about cooking, I just really enjoy the process of making things from scratch. (Although I am not nearly as adept as either Khalid or Ayesha's Nani...) Anyway. This is a book that will probably make you hungry.

The plot of Pride and Prejudice provides a scaffolding for the story, although the characters and motivations are often quite different. Unlike Elizabeth Bennett, Ayesha doesn't have 4 sisters, nor is her mother determined to be as dramatic as possible and also see said daughters married ASAP, for example. Rather than lifting the plot and characters wholesale, Uzma Jalaluddin uses certain scenes and concepts from P&P as jumping-off points from which to spool out a story that is both familiar and new. Some of the changes made actually reminded me of The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, another modern retelling. (Particularly Hafsa's situation at the end, though the conclusion was handled a bit differently.) It was interesting to see how they both used similar modern analogs when translating Lydia's situation at the end of P&P.

Ayesha and Khalid are both really interesting people with different outlooks on a lot of things in life and start off on the wrong foot. Despite that they manage to find an equilibrium, and understanding, and eventually affection. I found myself rooting for both of them (even when I cringed as Khalid put his foot in his mouth again). Both in their relationship, and in their separate endeavours... one of the bigger barriers to their relationship (besides meddling family members, and interfering family drama) is that they both need to figure out what they want out of life and how they're going to work toward that. While I found I wasn't totally pulled in by every moment of the story (I think that was more a "me" thing than a thing about the book...).

Overall I quite enjoyed this one. I'm always tentatively excited about Pride and Prejudice retellings and twists because. Well. I've been burned before. While this one didn't quite capture the feel of Jane Austen's work for me, it did do a good job of drawing on P & P and weaving a story that was good in it's own right.


  1. What an interesting take on P and P! Yours is the first review that I have read for this one and my interest is really piqued. I love it when there are food scenes as well! :)

    1. The cooking scenes were really fantastic. Like, I'm a huge fan of gratuitous description of food in books, but this was extra special for me because had included food preparation too. So that was a nice note for me personally because I just. Really like cooking?

      I'm glad I was able to bring this book to your attention. If you do wind up reading it, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

  2. This sounds good! I like that it takes certain elements of Pride & Prejudice and gives it a modern take, rather than just being a wholesale retelling. That sounds like a great way to go. And food! Food is always good in books. :)

    Figuring out where to go in life is also something I think we can all relate to. Great review, and sounds like an awesome book!

    1. It was really interesting to see a book that only used bits and pieces of the material from P & P rather than attempting a totally 1:1 retelling, especially because some concepts don't always translate well from Regency England to the modern day (depending... I've seen some retellings do very well).

      Thank you!

  3. I've never been a huge fan of Pride & Prejudice, so I don't think this would be a good fit for me. I'm happy you enjoyed it! 7/10 isn't bad at all. <3

    𑁋 Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear?

    1. It's not for everyone (I was honestly surprised that P & P wound up being a book I liked... I'm not known for loving classics)... but if Pride and Prejudice wasn't your thing then it might not be for you. (Although this book isn't EXACTLY the same as P & P was so... your mileage on that one may vary.)