Melissa McShane's Reviews > Ayesha at Last

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
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really liked it
Read 2 times. Last read July 14, 2019.

I don't like Pride and Prejudice retellings. They don't do anything for me that re-reading the original doesn't do better. So saying a book is a retelling of that classic tale is more or less a turn-off for me.

On the other hand, I love stories about people of faith living their religion, especially if they face challenges to do so. So when this book came to my notice via a friend's review, I decided to give it a try.

It turns out that Ayesha at Last, while taking cues from Pride and Prejudice, isn't so much a retelling as an original story informed by its inspiration. Ayesha is not Elizabeth Bennet. Khalid is definitely not Mr. Darcy. There are story beats drawn from Pride and Prejudice, but overall Jalaluddin has used those to create a loose framework around which she builds her story. The technique was extremely effective for this reader, because it kept me guessing as to which way things would go as opposed to knowing that this is the spot where "Wickham" lies to "Elizabeth" (although that scene does show up in this book).

Khalid stole my heart from the beginning. He's introverted and a little shy, but he has the courage to dress in a way that reflects his commitment to his faith--even when it hurts his career prospects. Ayesha was a little harder sell, but I think that was mainly in contrast to Khalid. She, too, wears an outward symbol of her faith and shares Khalid's desire to act as her religion requires (though neither of them realize that until later in the book). Between the two of them, this story becomes an interesting conversation about what it means to be Muslim in a world that often doesn't understand that faith.

I liked how well-drawn the secondary characters were. Hafsa, as a stand-in for Lydia Bennet, has all of the original's selfishness, but Jalaluddin finds an excellent way to redeem her, as well as a convincing scandal to bring her to her senses. Khalid's friend Amir drove me nuts for a long time until we finally got his backstory. And Ayesha's friend Clara had some really great moments, as well as providing a counter to Ayesha's principles in her own relationship choices.

I had some issues with Tarek, who is the Wickham character. I got the feeling Jalaluddin kept changing her mind about who she wanted him to be. He was by turns a spurned lover, a jerk, and a criminal, and I think (view spoiler), but all it did was seem messy. Similarly, Khalid's mother, who is probably the greatest villain of the piece, is less a complex, multilayered character and more a straight-up bitch. They were a couple of unfortunate hiccups in what is otherwise good characterization.

I'm also very slightly disturbed by (view spoiler)

Overall, I really enjoyed the story. This is the kind of retelling (of all kinds of novels, not just P&P) I appreciate--something that draws on the spirit of the original while creating something new.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 21, 2019 – Shelved
Started Reading
July 14, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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message 1: by Francesca (new) - added it

Francesca Forrest Excellent review--between yours and Sherwood's, I really need to read this sooner rather than later.

Melissa McShane Thanks! I hope you like it. It was extremely satisfying.

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