As someone who genuinely dislikes Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride & Prejudice, I seem to find myself often loving modern adaptations — and Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, which is a modern, Muslim re-telling of P&P, might be my favorite version yet.
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.
Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.
I can’t get over how much I absolutely adored this book and these characters. Just. My heart soared while reading this book, and it soars again thinking about it now.
Jalaluddin gives us both characters’ perspectives as the story unfolds, and I especially appreciated getting to see both of sides. She writes in such a way that you feel so deeply about each of them, and that’s part of what got me so invested in this book. I cared about Ayesha and Khalid, and wanted them each to find happiness and joy. It’s a large part of what kept me eagerly and anxiously turning the pages. Even though I knew it would have a happy ending (because (1) it’s a P&P retelling and (2) it’s a romance, so HEA is pretty much guaranteed), I still found myself worrying about how everything would all work out.
The story is rich with context and subplot, as you’d expect in a retelling of P&P, but with a modern flair — and apparently, I’m a much bigger fan of this story in a contemporary context. But I also appreciated the window into a religion and culture I’m not as familiar with, so having an Own Voices author tell this story allowed me to learn while I read, without detracting from the pure enjoyment I felt with each page.
Ayesha at Last is just a delight from start to finish. Filled with authentic characters, adorable encounters, and a heartfelt romance, it’s the perfect feel-good book to lift your spirits. Look for it in stores on June 4th.