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Ayesha at Last


Ayesha at Last

Ayesha might be seen as a has-been, a failure, maybe even a spinster by some of her younger Muslim friends and relatives. She’s almost 30 and unmarried, just starting a career as a substitute teacher after getting her education degree. Her dream is to travel and write poetry, but she feels compelled to stay at home with her younger brother and widowed mother, who is still mourning the sudden death of Ayesha’s father more than a dozen years ago, just before the family left India for Toronto.

Khalid is a conservative Muslim man who is proud of his religion. He works as an e-commerce analyst for a prestigious company in Toronto that has always been inclusive --- until his new supervisor seems to make every excuse to put him in uncomfortable situations (designing a website for a lingerie company, for example) and to call him out for his traditional clothing and facial hair. Khalid wants to honor his faith and its traditions --- including respecting his mother’s eventual choice of a bride for him --- especially since his beloved older sister flagrantly disregarded his mother’s authority and now lives overseas, virtually cut off from everyone in the family except Khalid, with whom she texts and emails.

"This [reimagining of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE] particularly well crafted and can easily stand up on its own, even for those who are unfamiliar with Austen."

Khalid’s sympathetic co-worker, Clara, also happens to be Ayesha’s best friend, but when Khalid and Ayesha meet on open mic night at a local lounge, they seem to take an instant dislike to one another. Ayesha is convinced that Khalid’s conservative appearance must indicate a similarly conservative attitude toward women, and Khalid is convinced that Ayesha, despite wearing hijab, is the kind of woman who smokes and drinks and is therefore not a devout Muslim.

Both Khalid and Ayesha’s misinterpretations of the other are only partly accurate. When their paths cross again as part of a planning committee for a young Muslims conference at their local mosque, they begin to see past surface appearances and start to appreciate and admire one another. But a few impediments stand in the way --- namely, that Khalid mistakenly thinks that Ayesha’s name is Hafsa (the name of Ayesha’s flirtatious, frivolous young cousin). This mistaken identity --- not to mention the fact that both Ayesha and Khalid’s mothers are trying to find spouses for them --- sets in motion a comedy of errors that might not result in a happy ending.

AYESHA AT LAST is one of a recent string of contemporary reimaginings of Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. This one, set in Toronto’s Muslim community and cleverly straddling the worlds of religious faith and contemporary romance, is particularly well crafted and can easily stand up on its own, even for those who are unfamiliar with Austen. One can imagine, though, a book group having a thoroughly enjoyable summer reading Austen’s original alongside Soniah Kamal’s UNMARRIAGEABLE, Ibi Zoboi’s PRIDE, Curtis Sittenfeld’s ELIGIBLE and, of course, AYESHA AT LAST to see how these talented modern-day writers play with Austen’s beloved novel.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 14, 2019

Ayesha at Last
by Uzma Jalaluddin

  • Publication Date: June 4, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Romance, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 1984802798
  • ISBN-13: 9781984802798