by Soniah Kamal
Published January 2019
One of these days I really need to read Austen. I enjoy so many retellings – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Bridget Jones’ Diary, and I know I have a copy of Mr. Darcy, Vampyre around here somewhere! (And now that I pulled up The Lizzie Bennet Diaries to link it here, I’m sorely tempted to sit down and watch the whole thing again but I have books to read!)
Anyway. Austen. I’ve read a bunch of retellings but believe it or not, I haven’t read the original. I really need to get on that, but instead, I read Unmarriageable, which is Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan! It’s SO GOOD. The themes of family honor, class structure, and rumors damaging reputations translates incredibly easily into Pakistani society, which is why Soniah Kamal wrote it. In her Afterword, she writes:
“Was there any worry more Pakistani than the concern about what might bring a family honor or dishonor? …. Was there anything more Pakistani than [Charlotte’s] calculated, ‘arranged’ marriage? … Was there anything more apropos to Pakistan than class issues, snootiness, and double standards?”
She goes on to say she was already reading the book as if it was set in Pakistan, so why not write it that way for other Pakistanis? Kamal explains that Pakistan is very much a mix of Pakistan and English culture, and that the emphasis on learning English and English culture comes at the expense of their own indigenous culture, something forced upon them by colonizers. Unmarriageable is her way of melding the two cultures.
I really enjoyed this version of the classic, and it has me even more interested in other versions, such as Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors. Book Riot actually ran a short list recently on diverse Austen retellings, and I’ve added every one of them to my To-Read list!
From the cover of Unmarriageable:
In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry – until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider.
A scandal and a vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.
When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that the family’s luck is about to change, excitedly prepares her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful – and single – entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal – and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.
Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.