Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been overtaken by a demanding teaching job. Her boisterous Muslim family, and numerous (interfering) aunties, are professional naggers. And her flighty young cousin, about to reject her one hundredth marriage proposal, is a constant reminder that Ayesha is still single.
Ayesha might be a little lonely, but the one thing she doesn’t want is an arranged marriage. And then she meets Khalid… How could a man so conservative and judgmental (and, yes, smart and annoyingly handsome) have wormed his way into her thoughts so quickly?
As for Khalid, he’s happy the way he is; his mother will find him a suitable bride. But why can’t he get the captivating, outspoken Ayesha out of his mind? They’re far too different to be a good match, surely…
Thank you to Readers First and Corvus Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Because while it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: To his Indian mother, his own inclinations are of secondary importance.
I was intrigued by the sound of Ayesha At Last which is pitched as a modern-day Muslim retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen’s classic is my favourite novel and whilst there have been many adaptations, this is the first time I have read a retelling. Happily, Ayesha At Last is a rich reimagining!
Set in Toronto, the story is told in third person from the points of view of the protagonists, Ayesha and Khalid, who are in their twenties. Ayesha is a strong-willed heroine who is not afraid to speak her mind. She clashes with Khalid, a devout Muslim who has traditional views. I liked Ayesha from the start and she did remind me of Lizzy Bennet in some respects. They are both intelligent and protective of their families. Admittedly, it took me a while to warm to Khalid, but I am glad that we saw things from his perspective. It explained the reasoning behind his personality and actions. Khalid’s awkwardness is actually quite endearing the more you get to know him.
I enjoyed learning about South Asian culture, such as the descriptions of the mouthwatering food, colourful clothes and rishtas (marriage proposals). Family also plays an important part in this novel. It was lovely reading about Ayesha’s close knit extended family, in particular the strong bond she shares with her grandparents, Nana and Nani. By contrast, Khalid has a controlling mother and a family secret which haunts him. But just like Ayesha, his loyalty towards his family runs deep.
Lots of issues are explored in this novel, one of which is Islamophobia. Ayesha and Khalid have to deal with racism as well as discrimination because of their Indian roots and Muslim faith. I feel that Islam receives a lot of negative attention in the media and it was refreshing to read about two very different Muslim characters being portrayed in a positive light.
Ayesha At Last also has plenty of humour and great one-liners from the characters. The romance between Ayesha and Khalid is subtle and slow-burning. Fans of Jane Austen and Shakespeare will appreciate the references and nods to their work. I initially thought that the story would be easy to predict because it is a retelling, but the twists surprised me!
Ayesha At Last is an insightful and engaging own voices contemporary romance.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐