- Uzma Jalaluddin
- Debut novel
- 348 pages
- Contemporary Romance
- Pride and prejudice Inspired
- Muslim characters
Ayesha At Last is the story of Ayesha Shamsi. She’s in her mid-twenties, un-married, and lives with her family. Though her community would have expected her married by her age, Ayesha is more worried about her career. She’s an aspiring poet, but works a modest teaching job to pay back her uncle, who funded her education. She’s often reminded by her family that she’s running out of time to meet someone, unlike her gorgeous younger cousin, Hafsa, who is rejecting her hundredth marriage proposal. Ayesha and her cousin are nothing alike. Hafsa’s family hopes Ayesha’s maturity will rub off on Hafsa a bit, so they ask Ayesha to help keep an eye on her. Yet, when Hafsa doesn’t show up for a planning meeting at the mosque, Ayesha finds herself covering for her cousin and in turn, meeting a handsome stranger with some curious eccentricities.
When a surprise engagement is announced between the ever-elusive Hafsa and Ayesha’s love interest, Ayesha has to try to be the mature, nurturing cousin she’s always been, even though all she wants is to steal Hafsa’s new fiancé for herself.
I love a good Pride and Prejudice re-telling, so I was excited to pick up this copy of Ayesha At Last. This book is a cute, contemporary romance between 20-something Ayesha and Khalid. Ayesha is an aspiring poet, though she spends more time teaching at a local school. Khalid works for a tech company and is devoutly religious, following everything his conservative mother has ever told him to do. They’re an odd pair, but so are our good literary friends Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.
I enjoyed Ayesha’s character. I think she embodies what a lot of us feel at her age—she wants to please her family and make them proud, and she knows she needs to pay the bills. However, she has her poetry dreams as well. She doesn’t tell many people about her poetry and she hides that aspect of her so that she can be the older sibling/cousin that her family needs. While I found this to be sad, I related to this. So often, we take on the needs of our families, people-pleasing to no end, just to make sure that everyone is taken care of, while never truly taking care of ourselves.
Like Ayesha, Khalid doesn’t want to cause any trouble for his mother, especially after his sister caused a stir in the family when she was younger. To avoid causing his mother any undue stress, he walks with his head down, wears religious dress, and stays out of trouble. He’s determined to follow all of her rules, including letting her pick out a bride for him. While Ayesha and Khalid’s personalities are very different, their roles are very similar.
One of the things I really enjoyed about this novel was the sharing of cultural backgrounds. Ayesha and Khalid live in a community in Canada, but like many religious communities, it almost feels as if they are in a world of their own. I enjoyed the way the author was able to craft together some of these details, as the environmental aspects become important to Ayesha and Khalid’s characters.
I also enjoyed that Jalaluddin wrote quite a bit about Khalid’s character struggling with discrimination at his work. While this happens all the time, it’s not something that we often see in plots, especially in a romance novel. Jalaluddin takes a lot of time to address this issue, which makes it central to Khalid’s character development as he grows and changes throughout the novel.
While I enjoyed Ayesha At Last, and I did think it was a cute story, I felt it was a bit questionable calling it a Pride and Prejudice re-telling. I think Jalaluddin’s marketing team might have done her a bit of a disservice with that one and let me tell you why.
This book is only loosely inspired by Pride and Prejudice. While there are a few details that fit the theme, much of the book is very different. We get the cute “it’s a truth universally acknowledged” line at the end of Chapter One, but for much of this book I truly forgot that it was a retelling.
First of all, Ayesha’s character is SO different from Elizabeth. While Elizabeth likes to break social boundaries, Ayesha only has ideas of breaking her community’s boundaries. For the most part, she plays the role expected of her. She does work, which she considers unusual for a Muslim Canadian woman in her community, and she does have a bit of attitude with her aunties sometimes, but for the most part, she is a responsible mature cousin and sister who cares deeply for her family. I saw some major differences between these two female protagonists, though that didn’t make or break the story for me.
As for Khalid, the only connection he really has with Mr. Darcy is his inability to share his feelings appropriately. He comes off as judgmental, especially upon his first impression with Ayesha, but in Ayesha at Last, it certainly seems like it’s fueled by anxiety about doing something he’s not allowed to be doing. That being said, the miscommunication between Khalid and Ayesha is as spot on as the original Pride and Prejudice, so I will give this novel a point for that.
As far as plotline details, there were only two similarities I could find to Pride and Prejudice in Ayesha At Last. The first was Hafsa’s likeness to Elizabeth’s sister, Kitty, and her journey with Mr. Wickham. Hafsa fits that role of not understanding the consequences of her decisions and how they affect her family, much like Kitty does in the original novel. The other similarity I found was Khalid’s letter in the last quarter of the book. Like Mr. Darcy, he tries to describe his apologies in writing. Though, this letter is ultimately what wins Elizabeth over, and in Ayesha At Last, Ayesha still has a lot of back and forth to do.
Overall, I think Ayesha at Last was a cute, quirky novel. I really enjoyed learning about Muslim culture through the plotline and I think this book was a really diverse romance, given the other romances that I have read. That being said, I’m not sure I would say I loved this novel. There were certainly some aspects to these characters that felt predictable and I didn’t love the “re-telling” label they gave this book, as it definitely has quite a lot of differences from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
If you love Jane Austen as much as I do, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this novel. Did you think it was worthy of being labeled a re-telling? How did you feel about the character differences? Let me know in the comments below!
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