As much as I love Pride & Prejudice, the book just doesn’t update well. (I’m posting a review soon of a spectacular P&P fail.) So many of the elements of the story don’t work out of context. Seduction of underage girls, the importance of one sibling’s marriage on the family’s fortunes, how many families one dines with, fine eyes… stuff just hits different now.
Persuasion, however, is, in many ways, a much easier tale to update. A young woman too sensitive to her family’s censure, a young man whose wounded pride demands satisfaction, and a second chance to regain what they’d once lost. The challenge with Persuasion is to reproduce one of the great, if unsung, romantic heroes. If your Wentworth doesn’t make a reader swoon, what even is the point?
All this to say, Sonali Dev gets this one right. I was half in love with both Ashna and Rico by the end of the first quarter.
Ashna Raje, cousin to Trisha Raje, is struggling to save her late father’s once glorious restaurant. The shy Ashna is running out of options, so when her friend is looking for a chef to fill in on a pro-am reality cooking show, Ashna goes for it.
Frederico Silva has suffered an IT band injury that has put an end to his outstanding football (soccer, you heathens) career. Casting about for something to do with the rest of his life, he decides it’s time to get closure from the girl who broke his teenage heart. What better way to do that than to use his fame to force his way onto the reality show?
Like Anne Elliot before her, Ashna’s childhood was anything but happy. Her father was an irresponsible alcoholic prince kicked out of his country for breaking the law too many times. Her ambitious mother chafed at her loveless marriage and abandoned the family when Ashna was young. Throughout the book, Ashna is trying to find a way to heal from these traumas. Rico’s return is one more wound on the pile.
Ashna is a heroine that I typically wouldn’t like. She’s sad and life seems to have drained her of too much of her fight. But Dev’s portrayal is gently sympathetic. Ashna’s continuing struggle with the hand she was dealt is easy to understand. I ached for her trying to get out from under the weight of it.
Dev tells the story from multiple perspectives, and across the years. We see Ashna as a child, witnessing her parents dysfunctional relationship. Dev shows Shoban, her mother, as a young woman forced to marry a spoiled prince, then as an older woman trying to reconcile with the daughter she left behind. Rico gets the short shrift: he still hurts from Ashna’s youthful rejection, but the story is less concerned with his past than his present.
If I had a complaint, and I truly don’t, it would only be that Rico doesn’t write his Wentworth note. However, I don’t blame Dev one bit for not wanting to compete with that.
This might be my absolute favorite Austen retelling. It makes me want to re-read both the original and this version. I’m definitely recommending pre-ordering this to read as soon as it comes out.
I was given a complimentary copy of this book via NetGalley in order to facilitate this review.