Recommended: not really
stay away if you want likable characters, satisfying resolutions, or people who don’t bow to societal pressures. Disclaimer: some of this may reflect on me, for being reluctant to forgive these awful characters so easily as they are in the book
Ayesha Shamsi’s dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts. 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.
Unfortunately, the characters were very difficult to like, each in their own special way. I finished the story, but with no real interest in seeing any of them happy. I liked it less by the end than I had in the middle, when I realized I didn’t like any of them. I felt that the messages given in the story were quite negative, as well. This was intended to be like Pride and Prejudice, but it read more to me like the ending of Grease.
Let’s begin with our characters. Each has their own special annoyance that kept me from forming any sympathy for them. Ayesha is constant only in that she’s constantly fickle. I nearly had whiplash from trying to keep up with her moods and opinions; Khalid is the worst, Khalid is her love, Khalid is the worst, Khalid is her love. And yet, the whole time she’s debating his actions and motives, she has no issue with her cousin Hafsa, who deserved nothing good and yet ended with everything. She’s as unlikable – if not more so – than her counterpart in Pride and Prejudice. Khalid is so aggressively naive that I have a lot of trouble sympathizing with him. The awkwardness I can forgive, but it seems rather deliberate of him to do some of what he did.
That said, it’s very hard to root for the two main characters to find love with each other when you rather dislike both of them. I had no interest in their moments of connection, which is a critical failing in a story that is essentially meant to be a romance.
I mentioned that this story ended up feeling more similar to Grease in its ending than to Pride and Prejudice. That moment where Sandy walks to the summer fair, decked out in tight leather, hair permed up, and a cigarette dangling from her lips? That’s how I felt with Khalid’s entrance at the end. I very much disliked that the resolution of his character was that he was finally forced to change himself to conform to what society accepts. What the hell kind of moral is that? Where this was centralized on their heritage and culture, I think it’s a very pessimistic message towards the expectations and requirements of Muslims in western countries.
So, what DID I like? Why did I keep reading? It’s a short list:
– Nani and Nana, and the clever incorporation of Shakespeare
– the cultural learnings (like the cooking, the process of rishtas)
– Clara and Zareena! The two best characters, for sure