Ayesha At Last
by Uzma Jalaluddin
Contemporary Fiction / Retelling / Romance
Published June 2019
Ayesha at Last is yet another Pride and Prejudice retelling – I might need to make a book list of these! Pride and Prejudice through an Asian lens seems to be really popular, between the Pakistani Unmarriageable, the Indian-American Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, and now this Muslim-American version. (The characters here are from a mix of countries.) The Muslim and Asian custom of arranged marriage fits well with the original plot of Pride and Prejudice, so it’s no real surprise.
Ayesha is a really strong character here, as she should be to be the stand in for Elizabeth Bennet. I disliked Hafsa; yes, she’s flighty like Lydia, but Lydia was never intentionally mean, and Hafsa is. There is no elder perfect sister in this version; Hafsa and Ayesha aren’t even sisters, but cousins, and Ayesha’s best friend is already in a long-term relationship. There’s a lot of parts of the original that are shaken up and mashed together in different ways in this retelling, but the core plot of “awkward rich dude keeps younger girl’s reputation intact and gets revenge on the man who would have ruined it while falling in love with the slightly-older spinster” is intact.
A lot of the action in this book takes place in the mosque; the mosque’s daily operations are a fairly big plot point in the book. I enjoyed the peek into the mosque-as-community-center. The other big aspects of this retelling are the family dynamics, from the Aunties brokering marriage offers to the adult children struggling with their elders’ relationships – in some cases, revering them as relationships goals, in some cases being completely in the dark as to what their marriages looked like at all! Ayesha’s grandparents are totally goals, but it takes most of the book to learn the mystery of her parents’ relationship.
This book lacked the lush descriptions of fashion that characterized Unmarriageable, and the mouth-watering descriptions of food that were the specialty of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, but I would still rank it somewhere between those two – above the latter but below Unmarriageable. All three are excellent, though.
So. Another excellent addition to the Pride and Prejudice pantheon, but very similar to both Unmarriageable and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors. I do have to say the manner in which our Wickham is taken down is hilarious, and VERY modern. I laughed out loud and read much of the chapter aloud to my spouse to explain why I was so amused.
From the cover of Ayesha At Last:
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 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 is announced between Khalid and Hafsa, 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.