Review: Uzma Jalaluddin – Ayesha at Last

Ayesha at Last
Uzma Jalaluddin

When does Ayesha get to choose her own path? As a high-school substitute teacher with little interest in getting married, she feels pressure to meet her extended family’s expectations. This includes looking after her cousin Hafsa, who is determined to have 100 marriage proposals before settling down. When her path intersects with Khalid, the two must decide for themselves how much they are willing to sacrifice – and gain.

You can tell that this novel is written by someone who actually understands Muslim culture, and isn’t just writing a novel in the ‘genre’ because it’s ‘popular’. Often I find in novels that there is a lot of going on about hijabs, when really most of the time it’s not anything out of the ordinary for the woman in question. Ayesha is comfortable with her faith even as she rebels against some of the requirements and expectations of her family.

I envy them their faith. I hope that people who do not understand or do not want to understand Muslim culture can read this novel and have their views changed. The sad fact is that many people are like Sheila the Shark – out to tarnish everyone of a religion/culture/group/minority with the sins of one person. This novel hopefully starts poking holes in those assumptions. Ayesha is a believable character that I found it easy to relate to.

Now, given the hassle of organising my own wedding lately, you’d expect that I felt indifferent or fearful of this novel. But my own life is far removed from this one. My parents certainly have never considered arranging a marriage for me (and I’d be pretty surprised if they did). Many people see arranged marriages as old fashioned and stuffy, but others of my friends who are older and having trouble finding a life partner feel differently. I guess it also depends how close you are to your parents.

Um, this is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice? Ugh, suddenly my star rating wants to go down a bit… No, I think this novel stands fine on its own and shouldn’t be compared to a stodgy Jane Austin novel. It’s a clean, touching romance novel that still had some bite and edge to it. I’m giving it 4 well deserved stars because I found it really difficult to put down, and I found myself second-guessing the story right up until the last 3 pages.

Allen & Unwin | 4th February 2019 | AU$29.99 | paperback

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