Family Drama Books

‘Ayesha at Last’ by Uzma Jalaluddin: The Bennet bibis of Toronto

Here comes the latest P&P tweak in the wake of a multitude of literary and cinematic adaptations of that Jane Austen classic. In Uzma Jalaluddin’s Ayesha at Last, the Bennet family’s trials and tribulations are given a culture tweak, and it works very well.

We have our Elizabeth/ Ayesha — “an aging rishta-reject with strong opinions” — a Muslim woman in modern-day Toronto. She meets her Darcy in Khalid, a reserved and deeply faithful Muslim who wears white robes and a skullcap, and sports a thick beard. He writes her off when he sees her carrying cigarettes and drinking at a bar; she thinks he is a fundamentalist. And there you have it.

The various Austen characters are easily recognisable, the oft-quoted homilies appear flavoured just that bit differently enough to make the reader smile in appreciation.

Take this for example. “While it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there is an even greater truth: to his Indian mother, his own inclinations are of secondary importance.”

‘Ayesha at Last’ by Uzma Jalaluddin: The Bennet bibis of Toronto

The strength of this book lies in its gentle but thorough examination of the characters’ lives, thoughts and motivations. It is strong on voice and the reader easily gets to know the main characters and understand what makes them tick, whether it is Ayesha’s mixed feelings towards her mother and cousin or Khalid facing discrimination at work because of his appearance. Several other characters too hint at having rich, well-developed worlds of their own, like the Shakespeare-quoting Nana who was a professor at Osmania University, the flighty cousin Hafsa who wants to start an event management company, or Masood, the life coach for professional wrestlers and a potential rishta.

The romance, a restrained one in this particular context, builds up gently and reels the reader in equally gently. It is family drama that forms the pivot of the book, with all the Austen tropes in place, as well as a few new strands thrown in, like mistaken identity and workplace politics, all of this with much badinage and wit.

This is Toronto Star columnist Uzma Jalaluddin’s first book. A polished debut, it is a delightful addition to the genre.

The writer is a manuscript editor and novelist based in Bengaluru.

Ayesha at Last; Uzma Jalaluddin, Penguin Random House, ₹399

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2020 3:35:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/ayesha-at-last-by-uzma-jalaluddin-the-bennet-bibis-of-toronto/article27158152.ece

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