Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

This book was a very unexpected surprise!  I really enjoyed it.  Described as a modern, Muslim Pride and Prejudice, it tracks the relationship of Ayesha and Khalid.  Both are Muslim immigrants to Canada from India.  While they come from similar backgrounds and now live in the same Toronto suburb, in some ways they are also worlds apart.

Ayesha is an aspiring poet who gives up her art to work as a teacher so she can repay the debt for her education to her wealthy uncle.  She has work as a substitute teacher but is not finding it fulfilling.  She is also frustrated by her younger, prettier cousin who is in the process of rejecting 100 arranged marriage proposals while she has only received a few undesirable ones - and in fact does not really believe in arranged marriages.  She lives with her overworked mother, her younger brother and her doting and rather modern grandparents.  Her father died in mysterious circumstances when she was a child, prompting the family to move to Canada to join her wealthy uncle and his family.

Khalid also lives only with his mother; his father having recently died of a heart attack.  His mother is meddling and controlling and he especially resents her for forcing his older sister into an arranged marriage in India.  He is secretly in contact with her and sends her money, but worries about her constantly and is ashamed of any role he may have played in her banishment.  Despite his resentment, Khalid is very devout - he wears traditional clothing, prays 5 times a day, will not touch a woman even in the business context and expects his mother to pick a wife for him and that love will follow marriage.  Khalid also works as an IT professional and is struggling with a new boss with anti-Muslim prejudices.  Some of the funniest scenes are when the boss tries to punish him by making him design a website for a company that sells lingerie for plus size women - it turns out these women also despise his skinny boss, like Khalid and work well with him.

The HR professional at Khalid's firm is also Ayesha's best friend.  She thinks the two would make a good couple and pushes them together.  They also meet on a committee organizing a conference for Muslim youth though at the time she is impersonating her cousin Hafsa so he doesn't really know who she is.

The narrative deals with how Ayesha and Khalid overcome their differences, and embrace their similarities, to come together.

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