What is this about?: It’s a Pride and Prejudice retelling set in Toronto with a Muslim cast of characters. Ayesha and Khlaid are glorious opposites, and similar too in some ways, as they try to navigate their way to each other around interfering aunties, ditzy cousins and mothers who think they always know what’s best for their sons.
What else is this about?: It’s a celebration of all the Muslim faith, the sense of family and community that links everyone together, and the book doesn’t shy away from the not-so-good aspects of being true to your faith in a country where not everyone understands you
Pride and Prejudicewith a modern twist
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.
When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.
I think the best way to describe Ayesha At Last for me is to say this: this book sparked unadulterated joy in me.
I know it’s a little thing, but in the book, Ayesha calls her grandma and grandfather Nani and Nana respectively, and that’s what I called my grandparents growing up. It made me smile seeing those words in the book — and seeing so many familiar aunties, uncles and other aspects of the Muslim faith that I have in my Hindu faith and how I was brought up.
Added bonus: killer P&P retelling.
Though to be fair, I actually forgot it was supposed to be a P&P retelling
I really did. It’s only at the end of the book that I realised I was reading some familiar P&P notes, and I didn’t really mind. I think this book stands just fine as its own as a romantic comedy of manners that just happens to be set with Muslim characters.
And what characters they are!
Ayesha, be still my heart, I firmly think so many girls and women will recognise parts of themselves in her. She moved to Toronto with her mother after her father was killed in India, though it’s never clear to her what actually happened to him. Her little brother is there too, and like all little brothers she is mystified how they have moved apart as he grew, and there’s a chasm between them she doesn’t quite know how to breach.
I feel like her mother doesn’t have enough of a presence in the book as a character, but that’s not to say she doesn’t figure large in Ayesha’s life. She is grieving for her husband still, and had to come to a new country and learn to stand on her own two feet to care for her children. I would have liked to have known more about and her relationship with Ayesha, but that doesn’t mean the two parental stand-ins — Nani and Nana — weren’t a treat to read themselves.
They came with the family when they moved, never considering staying in the aftermath of Ayesha’s father’s death. As her mother works so much, Ayesha interacts with them, and her Nana’s love of Shakespeare quotes! They are a source of quite strength and humour when she needs it the most — and also very apt at going out and conducting secret gossip missions.
Khalid works in IT for a big company and is good at his job. He lives at home with his mother, and is quite content to let his mother choose his wife — because that’s how things are done for him.
The book delves into his experiences at work, and the bigotry he faces there — and the friends he finds himself making outside his faith and within it too. These secondary characters are a glorious mixed bag, that bring such strength and diversity to the book as the author explores different aspects of their lives too, drawing Khalid in and showcasing just how wonderfully empathic is he is.
He is more than the way he chooses to dress or his faith — like so many people these days need to remember.
Together Ayesha and Khalid are combustible
In a good way! They find themselves thrown together to organise a Muslim conference to attract young people to their mosque, and experience a case of epic mistaken identity thanks to a favour Ayesha does for her cousin Hafsa, who wants to get out of those meetings.
I think you may be able to guess which P&P character Hafsa is.
The book explores them getting to know each other, — getting to learn how they each feel about their faith, and their family and the customs they need to follow. They butt heads, argue and yes, there’s miscommunication and … it’s all utterly charming and engrossing and I found myself being patient and going when the flow when in other books some of these tropes would annoy me endlessly.
Romance is in the air
The book also explores the assumptions made about faith, and marriage and the different way young Muslim men and women feel about it — and those outside the Muslim faith too. I appreciated that about this book — it (no book) can reflect the differences and diversity in any faith completely, but Ayesha At Last picks its lanes and does it well — and this makes for an utterly gorgeous read.
All the stars, people ALL. THE. STARS