Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Pride and Prejudice with a modern twist 

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.

This book was pitched to me as a Muslim ‘Pride and Prejudice’ retelling – naturally as a Muslim reader and blogger I was intrigued. From the moment I picked up this book, I was HOOKED! I could not put this down. There are so many great things I want to say about this book that I need a moment to collect my thoughts before writing my review. First of all, I want to thank the author for writing such an amazing book because it demonstrated so many things that happens around us that many seem to think is restricted to one particular faith or culture when it’s not. What was also intriguing is how the author referenced Islamic beliefs throughout the book and demonstrated the clash between culture and Islam which is what happens a lot today.

The author also did an amazing job in illustrating various ‘types’ of Muslims whom exist in our community – when I say types I mean.. Ayesha: the character I was able to relate to most, is educated, outspoken, independent but follows her faith and keeps Islam close to her heart, even wears the hijab. She loves poetry and wishes to pursue her career but still holds her family close and does not tend to conform to community expectations. I found her loyalty to family and those who take advantage of her easily was her flaw – for a smart woman she was easily taken advantage of by her own cousin from time to time but that’s what made Ayesha a strong character – whilst she had great qualities, she was still flawed Khalid on the other hand is more conservative with an ideology of arranged marriage and conforming to community expectations instilled in him. Both characters are Muslim yet very different from one another – the supporting characters we meet, Clara (Ayesha’s non-Muslim friend) and Amir (Khalid’s Muslim yet doesn’t practice the faith friend) demonstrated the diversity within friendships and again illustrated an honest picture among our society which is something I adored. I loved the characters in this book – even the horrible characters I wanted to slap! The author did an amazing job in bringing out well defined characters that caused me to have an emotional reaction with their every move.

When I first started reading this book, I was expecting just a romance story between an unlikely couple and whilst that is a foundation in this book, the story is much more intense and involved than a simple love story. The story was not simple – it was complex and intense, an amazing journey of change, harrowing backstories about the multiple characters we come to meet, discrimination and issues Muslims face today, betrayal and heartbreak with well balanced with humour. This incredibly well rounded book with fantastic characters, plot and my constant need to know “what happens next?” kept me enchanted on every page.

With special thanks to Allen and Unwin for sending me a review copy of this book.
-Annie

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