Yes, this was yet another Jane Austen retelling. I was all about those this year. Supposedly, it was based on Pride & Prejudice…and I guess I see that, but it wasn’t a strict retelling. It was more of an homage.
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.
Ayesha lives with her widowed mother and younger brother in her grandparents Toronto townhouse. After her father died under mysterious circumstances , she and her family fled from India, to the open arms of her wealthy uncle, who had emigrated with his wife and children years before. Ayesha is especially close with her beautiful —but flighty — cousin Hafsa.
Ayesha is training to be a teacher, but in her heart she is a poet. Her grandfather taught her to love language, and always quotes Shakespeare to her. She performs at open mic night at her local “lounge”, mostly poems about what is expected of her as a young, single Muslim woman, and what people see when they look at her.
Khalid lives across the street with his mother, and he thinks Ayesha is beautiful. Khalid is a devout Muslim — he wears long white robes every day, and wears a long beard and a skullcap. Some people at his office find his appearance a bit extreme, but he feels that it is important to let people know what kind of person he is and what sort of beliefs he has just by looking at him.
They meet under circumstances of mistaken identity, and things don’t go well. He sees a woman who doesn’t take her Muslim background seriously, and she sees a man who takes his all too seriously.
Throw in a bigoted boss, some enthusiastic lingerie designers, a self-help wrestling guru, a clueless frat-type “bro”, and various other friends and family, and lots of misunderstandings and miscommunications, and there’s your story.
As a standalone story, I enjoyed it. I always appreciate reading about different cultures and traditions. Ayesha and her family were likable and fun to read about. And I was rooting for Ayesha and Khalid to sort out their stupid nonsense and get together in the end.
But where this book didn’t work for me was in its need to check off all of the Pride & Prejudice plot boxes, even if they didn’t quite fit into the story. Out of nowhere, Khalid’s mother became the evil Lady Catherine stand in character, and I think the story suffered for that.