Ayesha Shamsi is a modern, late 20s Muslim woman, living in Toronto, starting out as a substitute teacher. This is the story of her finding herself, finding love and sort of working out her path in life. The premise was really interesting to me, I’ve not come across many rom-coms featuring modern Muslim men and women. The book itself was readable – I flew through it in one sitting – but there were a few missed opportunities among the love and humour.
Ayesha meets the conservative and strict Khalid by chance, they don’t agree on much but they do feel an attraction that isn’t appealing to either at first. In some ways the story plays homage to Austen’s classic, Pride & Prejudice. Hafsa, Ayesha’s spoilt and naïve young cousin is impulsive like Lydia Bennet, Khalid’s mother Farzana is dramatic and conniving, a harsher desi version of Mrs Bennet. Khalid’s first confession of love instantly called to mind Mr Darcy’s first proposal – impetuous, insulting and against all odds declaration of love. Even one of the main double-faced villains bears a striking resemblance to Wickham. For me, these dualities took away from the story of Ayesha and Khalid.
That said, Ayesha’s story has plenty for readers that isn’t Austen. The humour and heart of a desi family and their myriad of customs and values are present on each page. No culture is perfect but several aspects of familial solidarity present here were sweet and heartwarming. The family history was sad but added depth and realism to Ayesha. The romance may take some queues from its predecessor but has enough charm and merit to make you laugh out loud and sigh with content.
Readers who aren’t aware of Austen will perhaps enjoy it more than I did. Couldn’t help myself from making comparisons and that took away from the general joy of the story. Ayesha oscillated too much between an aspirational, confident woman and one without direction. This annoyed me and I felt her changing personality didn’t seem constant with who everyone else kept seeing her as – was she confident? Was she confused? Khalid by contrast was brilliant. It was refreshing to read about a man whose physical appearance set him apart (i.e had him racially profiled) but who was confident and comfortable within himself. His growth was clear and really well depicted.
Read it for the honest and heartfelt portrayal of a South Asian family soap opera featuring regular modern young people who happen to be Muslim.
Written by Uzma Jalaluddin who I look forward to reading more from