Romancing the Stacks: Ayesha at Last
Welcome to Romancing the Stacks! This is a series of reviews featuring one of my favorite genres: Romance Novels! In my opinion, there’s nothing better than curling up with a good romance. This review will explore Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin.
A co-worker shared a wondrous list of all the hottest romances to checkout, and this was on the list. I was drawn to it as I have never read a romance novel with a Muslim heroine, or even hero. I know very little about that culture, and I love to experience new cultures and religions through my reading. I cannot say how accurately this does display the culture, and will only review what I thought of the romance over all.
This is a twist on Pride and Prejudice. I will make a confession: I have never read Pride and Prejudice. In high school, I was anti-Jane Austen for some reason that I cannot now remember. I think I hated the societal norms inflicted on women in her time period, and felt that she was not a really revolutionary author. I have seen several movies, retelling, and culture benders of Pride and Prejudice, plus read dozens of modern retellings of the tale that I simply adore. I have enjoyed all of those, and I promise that one day on this series I will read the original, eventually.
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.
This was such a good read! I enjoyed how it was not a copy and paste of Pride and Prejudice in a Muslim setting. There were a lot of differences with simple nods to the original (this is based on my knowledge from the film). For example, instead of having four sisters, Ayesha has a brother, and four very spoiled cousins. I think the change was to better fit Ayesha’s culture as cousins and relatives are still very close knit families.
Khalid is normally the sort of hero I would hate. He is very passive in his actions, and willing to let his mother decide who he is to marry. Normally that annoys me in a person, but here it was stated why he is that way. By letting his mother have control, he does not have to worry. Fear is the main reason he was so passive. Why would anyone want to make major life decisions when someone else could make them? Khalid has a reason for this fear due what happened to his older sister.
I also think this culture has so much in common with Victorian England with arranged marriages, dowries, and more. It is amazing how two seemingly different culture are so similar. I did like the reason that people agree to arrange marriages. The idea of love after marriage, is sorta romantic. Agreeing to be with someone for the rest of your life and learning to love them has an air of romance. We see love before marriage and love after marriage in this book and it works.
A few complaints I had with the book are the villains. We had three in this book, two who I really didn’t like. The first was a racist, and she represented the daily struggles Muslims go through with simply existing. I didn’t mind her, though she could have been more well rounded.
The second, Tarek, reminds me of Will from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. He tells our heroine bad things about the hero that are completely untrue. In the original, Will hates Darcy for cutting him off; in this retelling, Tarek hates Khalid’s mother for keeping him from his true love, yet he acts completely sleazy in other parts. He just failed to make sense as a character.
I was also not super thrilled with Ayesha choosing to quit her job as a teacher to travel and be a poet. I understand the quitting her job as a teacher – it was obvious she choose the role to make her family happy. I don’t understand the career plan. I was hoping that while planning the Muslim United conference she would realize she likes speaking to teens and youths and looks in that direction for a career. I felt a poet was too unstable. That is my opinion though, and maybe Ayesha had another plan to make money. I still enjoyed this book. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a fresh new romance featuring a different culture.