A scandal and vicious rumor in the Binat family has destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to school girls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation without dropping out to marry and start having children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire them to dream of more.
When an invitation arrives for the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for eligible–and rich–bachelors, certain that their luck is about to change. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of one of the most eligible bachelors. But his friend, Valentine Darsee, is clearly unimpressed by the family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her, quickly dismissing him and his snobbish ways.
But as the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal–and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man.
I have always enjoyed reading Jane Austen retellings and reimaginings because it’s fascinating to see how her thoughts and ideas translate into our modern world or how modern authors can interpret them. I have liked a few and been disappointed by others, so I knew not to have a lot of expectations from this one. But Pride and Prejudice set in 21st century Pakistan held too much appeal and I couldn’t stop myself from requesting the ARC. And I am so glad to report that this book exceeded all my expectations in a delightful way.
There is not much I can say about the individual characters because the author stays pretty close to the original – in terms of both the plot and the characterization. However, making both Jena and Alys unmarried women in their 30s who take up the teaching profession to help their family make ends meet, and then thrive in their independence was a deft touch. The Binat family has also extensively traveled abroad and their kids educated in international schools before the downturn in their fortunes, hence it’s quite easy to believe Alys as a modern well read woman who loves her country and culture, while also being very critical of a hypocritical society that puts undue pressure on young women to be virtuous and marry and serve their husbands but the men are never expected to respect or value their partners.
The whole book is full of social commentary about the class and societal prejudice that felt all too real. I’ve seen enough of the snobbery and gossip mongering and the too much importance given to people with money, both in the Indian media and in my real life; and even the belief that a woman’s life is only fulfilled by getting married and bearing children and not by being a person of intellect and with a voice of her own – all of this hit too close to home and that’s what makes this book so special. There were some great conversations in the book which resonated with me – about finding home and identity when you’ve grown up with foot in your culture and traditions and the other foot trying to adapt to more western sensibilities; about how we as a country can better celebrate our history while also putting the lasting effects of colonization into context; about trying to voice an opposing opinion regarding the place of women in a society that tries to cast them into a mould.
The other strength of this book and one that I truly enjoyed was the very “desi” feel of it. I’m not a Muslim nor Pakistani, so I won’t comment on how true that rep is but it did feel quite similar to some of the Pakistani TV dramas I’ve watched. But the culture, food and language are still very much similar to my own and it was such a delight to read about all of that in such glorious detail. All the wedding ceremonies and clothes that were described made me want to run to India and buy some nice extravagant clothes 🤩🤩 The narration about all the food in detail throughout the book is mouth watering and reading about everyone enjoying these delicacies made me want to join in all the fun. And I really adored the generous use of Urdu all through the book – it’s nice to see some familiar words in conversations and especially the use of famous proverbs. The book also lots of nods to Austen’s works, right from the first line to the last and some other prominent authors, so be ready for some nice recommendations.
Despite how much I enjoyed reading this one, it’s not perfect. I really loved the few subplots that the author incorporated, but for the most part it’s too close to the original. The romance between Alys and Darsee also felt very rushed and I would have liked to see them interact more and fall in love slowly. However, the society and world of P&P does translate well into the modern Pakistani setting and the characters felt very believable. The story is also very funny and entertaining and I couldn’t put it down.
If you love Jane Austen and like reimagining her stories, then do give this one a try. And if you are from the subcontinent, then I definitely recommend this book. You will really really enjoy this desi Pride and Prejudice.