Summary from Goodreads:
A modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice for a new generation of love.
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 is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one 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.
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.
I’d been hearing about Ayesha at Last since it published in Canada last year – a Pride and Prejudice retelling set in a Toronto Muslim community.
SOLD. Where could I buy this? (Ugh, I had to wait until it got picked up in the US and then read a galley.)
Poet Ayesha (our Lizzie Bennet character) is working as a substitute high school teacher in order to repay her uncle for saving her family/paying for school after they were forced to emigrate to Canada when her reported father was killed in India. She gets roped into helping plan a youth meeting at the local Muslim community center, first to assist her cousin Hafsa (the Lydia character) and then to pretend to be Hafsa when Hafsa clearly has other (read: non-boring and more likely to lead to a financially lucrative marriage) things to do. Computer programmer Khalid (come through, Fitzwilliam Darcy) is under a lot of pressure – his father died recently, his overbearing mother is on his back about getting married, and he just got a bigoted new boss at his job who is concern-trolling his choices as a man who practices a somewhat more conservative form of Islam (she lived in Saudi Arabia for six months….qu’elle horreur). But he makes time to help with the planning committee and so he meets “Hafsa.”
Turns out they’ve also met before, at a poetry-slam. Khalid got dragged to it by his coworker, a much-less devout man determined to shake up Khalid’s more-rigid world-view. Ayesha is there – she’s kind-of dragged to it by a friend but it’s also one of the only creative outlets she has – and they immediately don’t like each other. Khalid is appalled at the mixing of the sexes, the availability of alcohol, and the fact that this Muslim woman would get up in front of an audience and recite poetry. Ayesha has already had her patience tested by “veil-chasers” and she doesn’t have time for a conservative guy who acts like women have only one place and that’s inside the home. She recites a poem clearly meant to provoke Khalid, the result of which is that he starts to admire her despite himself.
Now that the two of them are thrown together on this planning committee, Khalid starts to fall for “Hafsa” despite the fact that she isn’t a “good Muslim girl”. Ayesha tolerates him, and perhaps comes to see him as a possible friend…or more. But when Khalid’s mother gets wind of their friendship, and a specter from Khalid’s past returns, everything starts to go off the rails.
The first twenty pages aside (read at lunch before grocery shopping) I INHALED this this book. Jalaluddin very cleverly kept the bones of Austen’s masterpiece, and a few well-placed near-quotes, and used it to tell a fresh story about appearances, religious intolerance, and how a culture changes over time. I really liked how Jalaluddin allowed Khalid to re-examine how he practices Islam but he never loses his faith or throws it away; opening up his practice allows him to see that he was closed-off to those he could help, like his sister or his office-mate. Plot-wise, there aren’t too many changes from the original – “Lizzie” and “Darcy” meet, have mutual disdain, he starts to like her, there’s some rejection, they start over, then “Lydia” throws a spanner in the whole works – but the change of setting and culture puts a new spin on the whole. Oh, and when Khalid’s boss gets her comeuppance….I almost stood up on my chair and cheered. There’s even Ayesha’s Shakespeare-quoting, ex-professor Nana and sharp-eyed Nani (who gives an amazing roti cooking lesson) as stand-ins for our beloved Uncle and Aunt Gardiner. A must-read this summer.
Ayesha at Last is out today in the US, complete with that beautiful cover.
Dear FTC: I read a digitally from the publisher via Edelweiss and I have a copy of the paper book waiting for me to purchase at work.