Ayesha At Last, pitched as a modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice retelling, immediately got me interested. The book has also received praise from my friends and that was enough for me to pick it up.
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
Content warnings: Islamophobia, fatphobia, ableist language, colorism, mention of parental abuse, controlling mother, miscarriage, abortion.
It took me two pages to become enamoured with the characters. Starting from Khalid’s point of view, we are introduced to him and his view of Ayesha as he spies on her leaving for work one morning. I could immediately feel that Ayesha at Last would be a fun read.
“Because while it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: To his Indian mother, his own inclinations are of secondary importance.”
Ayesha is a strong main lead. She is stubborn about her choices and tries to do the best for her family, taking on the big sister role easily even though it hurts her at times. She is also a flawed human being who is confused about her passions and what she wants to do in life, even in her late twenties.
I really liked seeing Ayesha interact with her family, particularly her grandparents. Her relationship with them was very touching. She also goes over bounds to help her uncle with her cousins because he helped her family a lot when they arrived in America and she wants to repay that kindness.
My only complaint would be that she didn’t have any growth in the book. Be it with her relationships, her outlook on life, or her career. After all the uncertainty that was shown, she didn’t grow in any area.
“Just remember to pack light. Dreams tend to shatter if you’re carrying other people’s hopes around with you.”
Khalid was another strong main lead, and better than Ayesha. He sticks to his beliefs, is honest to a fault, and simply tries to do the best wherever he can help. Unlike Ayesha, he actually had a lot of growth. I liked seeing how he dealt with situations and learnt things.
But again, I have a complaint. Throughout the book, Khalid is heavily stereotyped for maintaining a beard and wearing an ankle-length white robe and a skullcap. For a while, it was admirable because he stood against all of it and stuck to his beliefs. But I HATED how the other characters constantly judged him for it.
Through Khalid, the book shows workplace discrimination as well. Khalid’s new boss simply has it out for him because of his faith and way of dressing.
SPOILERS AHEAD. One factor of his “growth” was him changing his dressing to appease other people, especially Ayesha, and I hated that. The fact that the book sends this message that he has to change to modern dressing in order to be attractive and accepted in society grated me. END OF SPOILERS
Sometimes the only way to move forward is to rock the boat. Otherwise you risk losing everything.
The Muslim representation was nice to see. I can’t speak for “good” because it’s not my place to say. But I did appreciate seeing the characters going to the mosque and planning events normally like people from any other religion. It wasn’t specifically highlighted. It was just normal.
The family members were heavily involved in each other’s lives so we see family politics and random antics. We also see a few arranged marriage setups or “rishta visits” where two families meet and “measure up” one another. The book captured just how awkward the process is.
I highly recommend checking out these own voices reviews for a better perspective on the representation: May’s review, Samihah’s review.
A murmur of shock spread through the crowd. A few silently vowed to come to the mosque more often. Who knew it was better than reality TV?
The romance is the only thing I don’t have any complaints about. While Khalid low-key crushed on Ayesha from afar, they start off on the wrong foot when they actually meet. They verbally spar and slowly grow closer to each other.
Since this is a P&P retelling, there are multiple forces that try to keep them apart so that sets up some drama. I could have honestly done without all that. My favourite parts were them slowly bonding.
Ayesha’s friend Clara is sort of a matchmaker here who pushes them together. But I did not like Clara. Although she had good intentions, her actions reeked of “put my only two Muslim acquaintances together.” And a few other small instances felt insincere.
“It’s not enough to find someone you love. You have to be ready for that love, and ready to make changes to welcome it into your life.”
Speaking of P&P, Ayesha at Last is a very loose Pride & Prejudice retelling. And by very loose, I mean hanging by a thread.
It feels like the author wrote a completely different book and changed some of it to fit the P&P retelling pitch. There is barely any similarity, and one big similarity felt very out-of-place and unnecessary.
The writing could have been better. Multiple characters have inconsistencies. A lot of the book felt dragged. There were multiple parts that simply had no relevance to the story. Some plot threads were thrown in to make it a P&P retelling but were not handled properly.
So if you’re going in expecting to find a proper P&P retelling, you’ll be disappointed.
“Sometimes there were no words, only sunshine on your heart. Alhamdulilah.”
Ayesha at Last had potential but missed the mark. The author tried to do too much in one book. There was workplace discrimination, dealing with Khalid’s past and faith, Ayesha’s family’s plot threads, and even a little bit of Ayesha’s friend’s romance. If only a couple of things were focused on, it would have turned out much better.
Nonetheless, it was enjoyable. The book had me smiling multiple times. I especially liked the romance. Ayesha and Khalid were so cute in some parts. So the book wasn’t all that bad.
If you’d like to read great romance books, I highly recommend Drag Me Up and The Right Swipe.