Set in modern-day Canada, “Ayesha at Last” explores themes found in Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”—societal expectations, reputation in the community, complicated family dynamics, overcoming personal obstacles—through the lens of several Muslim families.
The back of “Ayesha at Last,” Uzma Jalaluddin’s debut novel, says it’s “a modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice for a new generation of love.”
Ayesha is a poet and teacher who, while lonely in many ways, knows she doesn’t want a traditional arranged marriage like her cousin, Hafsa, who enjoys toying with her dozens of suitors. Khalid is socially awkward, a more conservative Muslim and not afraid to voice his judgments, which irritates Ayesha and colors her perception of him on their first meeting.
Without being too literal in character comparisons, Ayesha is the essential Lizzie Bennett to Khalid’s Fitzwilliam Darcy. Hafsa is more like a Lydia/ Kitty hybrid and charming schemer Tarek is clearly meant to play the part of George Wickham. You’ll find both some Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs. Bennett traits in the overbearing mothers from the primary families and within the mosque community.
But while the inspiration and similarities to Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” are apparent, don’t assume you know exactly how this novel plays out.
There is so much depth to the storytelling, especially elevated because Ayesha and Khalid take turns narrating. Jalaluddin explores racism in the workplace, politics and loyalties in a mosque community, arranged marriages, false identities and so much more.
I particularly liked the relationships with their respective close friends; Ayesha and Clara, and Khalid and Amir. Each pairing involves the give and take that good friends have, giving honest advice—sometimes being the bearer of harsh criticism—but accepting and supporting their friends at the same time. As the themes of pride and prejudice would suggest, both Ayesha and Khalid have to overcome their own weaknesses and accept the truths about themselves and their families in order to move forward in their own lives.
5 out of 5 stars—I’d highly recommend this book!
Note: I acquired this book through a Once Upon a Book Club subscription box, which was gifted to me by a friend. It was a really entertaining way to experience the book, as the box contains items relevant to the narrative that you unwrap at the appropriate page number while reading.