Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Published: June 2019
Genre: women’s fiction
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 who 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.
You know a classic retelling is good when you stop comparing it to the original and get swept up in the new narrative! I read this book earlier in the summer and it blew me away.
There’s a new Lizzie and Darcy in the house and their names are Ayesha and Khalid! Jalaluddin did such an amazing job with her Pride & Prejudice for the modern age, and I loved the way she incorporated all the classic antics (a flighty, boy-obsessed figure; an image/reputation-obsessed matron; a sensible but judgmental heroine; a quiet and misunderstood hero; oh, and letters!) and spun it on its head.
I especially appreciated the discussion of what it means to be Muslim in the 21st century, of the many ways one can express faith and values. Within the first fifty pages I wanted to scream at Khalid’s boss and it made me so angry to think that discrimination like this happens everyday (so incredibly unfair and horrible!), so seeing sweet marshmallow Khalid stand up at the end was excellent justice.
I enjoyed watching Ayesha’s character grow and develop in her artistic strength as well, piecing together what it means for her to be an Indian Muslim woman living life on her terms. Her Nana’s constant quoting of Shakespeare made me smile, her silly brother’s schemes made me laugh out loud, and her amazing and supportive best friend Clara I wanted to hug forever and always.
It is very difficult for classic retelling to receive a full five stars from me, but this one deserved every single glowing star. Loved it. I can’t recommend this enough!!