ARC Review: Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

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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 dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.
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.

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This has been a year for desi P&P retellings, so I was very excited when the US release date for this book was announced and I also managed to get the ARC. I had heard a lot of good things about it, but I kept my expectations normal because I feel P&P doesn’t always translate to contemporaries very well and I didn’t wanna be totally disappointed. So I’m quite happy to report that I had fun reading this book.

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Both Ayesha and Khalid are in their late 20s but their views on what they want to do and how they want to get married are drastically different. Ayesha maybe a substitute teacher but her true passion is poetry, even though she tries to curb that side of her because it’s not practical and she wants to support her family. She is religious, always dons her hijab, is very very loyal to her family but is also pretty liberal in her views. She is also not very interested in marriage but there are instances when she wonders about how she will find her true love or happiness, and I really empathized with her. Khalid on the other hand is much more conservative and socially awkward, has decided to let his mom pick his wife because he thinks it’s the right thing to do, and is quite adamant in his belief that love and happiness comes after marriage. He is actually very sweet and kind (mostly) but because of his attire, people always tend to make harsh judgments about him.

There is the usual misunderstandings and prejudices that come into play like in P&P when they start interacting with each other, and I quite enjoyed their dynamic develop. They are actually quite judgmental about the other many times through the story but Khalid learns a lot and grows into someone who is more accepting. Ayesha apologized a bit too but I didn’t see the same amount of growth in her. But the way their friendship blossomed, how they couldn’t stop falling for each other but still tried to for the sake of their families and their mutual pining really made this a nice romcom.

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The writing was quite easy to get through, even though it felt a little off at times. The use of Urdu words in between was amazing, but there were a lot of Shakespeare references too that took me out of the story a bit (it’s a personal problem though and other readers might really enjoy it). I liked that the author tries to represent different kinds of Muslims in her story – from the more conservative and faithful to those on the more liberal side of the spectrum, and everywhere in between. The whole desi “aunty brigade” who are nosy and all up in your business, our obsession with early marriages, every MIL’s search for a docile daughter in law and all the mama’s boys made for very nostalgic reading and reminded me of so many people in my own extended family. I was actually delighted to see that both the families in this story are originally from Hyderabad, my hometown in India and it made me feel like going home soon. The tone of book was very humorous for most of the first half and I really enjoyed it, but it turns into a lot of drama in the latter half. While the author sensitively tackles issues like workplace harassment and Islamophobia, I think it went a little too far, especially with the horrible boss. There are also too many other subplots and each of the supposed villains felt like extreme caricatures, which made the second half of the book overly dramatic and bit dragged on.

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Overall, this was a mostly sweet and fun romcom to read which I finished rather quickly. If you like Jane Austen retellings and would love some desi Muslim representation in them, then this is a lovely book to read. It can get tad over the top at times but it’s mostly very enjoyable.

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PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Berkley for providing me with this advance review copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

11 thoughts on “ARC Review: Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

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        1. You have quite few this year with desi American characters and I find them so relatable.. you can try this one… Also The Takeover Effect by Nisha Sharma.. Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev… Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal is Set in Pakistan but the culture is very relatable…
          And if you want to try in fantasy, checkout The Candle and The Flame by Nafiza Azad…

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Really great review!! I’m Muslim myself and am hesitant to read this because I have already seen so many books like these that end up not having particularly good representation of Muslims, or perhaps only represent one kind of Muslims but then is referred to as one that represents all Muslims, if that makes sense, or even most Muslims. Anyways, I think I might give it a try 🙂 thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!!! I think this one definitely has much better representation among the few books I’ve read, especially the diversity within the representation itself… you can definitely give it a try, but obviously you can judge the authenticity better 😊😊😊

      Liked by 1 person

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