Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s most well known novel, is more than story of hate turning to love. It is the story of seeing someone beyond the initial impression that one has of a new acquaintance.
Uzma Jalaluddin’s new Pride and Prejudice adaptation, Ayesha at Last, is set in Toronto’s Muslim community. Ayesha has a dream of being a poet. But the reality of paying her wealthy uncle back forces her to earn her bread as a teacher. At the age of 27, Ayesha is confronted by the fact that she is single, especially when she is compared to her younger cousin Hafsa. Hafsa is on track to reject nearly 100 prospective spouses and is proud of it.
Then Ayesha meets Khalid. Khalid is the traditional type who believes in arranged marriages, in addition to being socially awkward. Though Ayesha finds him physically attractive, she is repelled by his cold personality and his adherence to the strict interpretation of their mutual religion.
When it is announced that Khalid and Hafsa are engaged, Ayesha is forced to confront her own feelings and how she sees both Khalid and her own family. As she goes on this emotional journey, Ayesha begins to see Khalid, her family and herself in a different light entirely.
I’ve read many Pride and Prejudice adaptations. This book is one of the best adaptations I have ever read. The author holds true to the original work while fitting it to the world she knows. It was funny, it was charming and it made me think. Ms. Jalaluddin opens the door to a world and a community that many of us would see only within a stereotypical light. She also writes head on about racism in a way that hits the reader over the head without requiring an academic style lecture or a dry news story.
If I had to pick my favorite aspect of this novel, it would be that the reader is in Khalid’s head. In the cannon Pride and Prejudice, the reader is in Elizabeth Bennet’s head. We only see Mr. Darcy through her eyes. In seeing the world through Khalid’s eyes, the reader not only understand his perspective, we understand his motives and his desires. This choice by the author adds another layer to the novel and is one of the reasons why I think it stands out as one of the best Pride and Prejudice adaptations to hit the market.
I absolutely recommend it.