Publication Date: 6.4.19
Page Count: 368
Why I Picked It Up: I was looking for a retelling of a classic book for the Professional Book Nerds reading challenge, and that it was #ownvoices is a bonus.
Synopsis: (From Amazon)- 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 who dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.
When a surprise engagement is announced between Khalid and Hafsa, 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.
Opening Sentence: “He wondered if he would see her today.”
My Thoughts: I absolutely devoured AYESHA AT LAST. I cared less that it was inspired by Pride and Prejudice and more that it was a diverse romantic comedy, and it absolutely delivered. Ayesha is a young Muslim woman living in Toronto. She’s passionate about poetry but she’s currently working as a substitute teacher because she feels that career is more in line with something she’s “supposed to” do. Through a series of coincidences, she meets Khalid, a devout Muslim man, and the two catch each other’s eye but quickly misunderstand and dislike each other.
Khalid is very conservative and his faith is always at the forefront of his decision making. Ayesha loves her family but is skeptical of many of the traditions in her culture, including rishtas, which seem to consist of meetings between potential partners and their families to see if the two are a good fit for each other. Ayesha’s cousin Hafta, the younger and flightier of the two, has no such qualms and is well on her way to rejecting 100 of such proposals. Ayesha isn’t necessarily seeking out marriage for herself, but can’t help but feel a little disenchanted about being thought a spinster at 27. While Ayesha is coming in to her own in the classroom, Khalid is fighting against overt racism in the workplace. His traditional clothing and beard have made him a target of discrimination, but he’s doing his best to keep his head down and get his work done.
There is a lot going on in this book. You have complicated family dynamics, racism, mistaken identity, issues of addiction, money troubles… the list goes on. The Muslim culture was well represented and the reader gets exposed to plenty of descriptions of ritual, faith, and food. This book was both sincere and funny- I really loved Ayesha’s character. There are lots of characters and many subplots, but I didn’t find that it detracted from the overall story. I thought it allowed us to see a more robust picture of the two at its center. That said, I would have liked for them to have even more time together. I’m all in for a sequel/ movie adaptation a la Crazy Rich Asians- bring it on!
All in all, I loved this debut. It’s an #ownvoices story that made me laugh, taught me something, and made me think. I really enjoyed reading about this culture that I didn’t know enough about and thank the author for sharing! If you’re an audiobook person, I would recommend listening to it. I think the narration added to my experience.
What’s your favorite contemporary romance book?
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