Unmarriageable – Review

Thank you to the author, Soniah Kamal and publisher, Penguin Random House for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

“Jane Austen is ruthless when it comes to drawing-room hypocrisy. She’s blunt, impolite, funny, and absolutely honest. She’s Jane Khala, one of those honorary good aunts who tells it straight and looks out for you.”

In 2017, I attended the Decatur Book Festival and had the privilege to go to a session, “Creating Jane Austen and Austen Creations,” where author Soniah Kamal was on the panel. My ears perked up when she talked about why she loved Jane Austen. Kamal said she loved Austen’s “super sharp whit” and her ability to demonstrate “what makes a good sister” in the relationships in her books. When Kamal said she was releasing a retelling called Unmarriageable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan, I knew it was a book I wanted to read. I had my fan girl moment when I had a chance to talk to her after the session to ask more questions about the book, when and if I could get a review copy.

This book was the way to start off my reading year. I’ve tried a few retellings of the classics and my track record has been hit or miss. My favorite retellings remain true to the essence of the original story while bringing something unique and relatable.

What makes Unmarriageable such a wonderful book is that we see the characters of Pride in Prejudice in a setting that is current and relevant. Set in Lahore Pakistan, we meet Alysba Binat (Alys aka Elizabeth) an English Literature teacher at the British School of Dilipabad. Her older sister, Jena (Jane) works as a teacher there too. Both have been teachers at this school for the last 10 years in an effort to care for their family after some family and financial fallout.

When Alys gives her students the assignment to rewrite the famous opening lines of Pride and Prejudice I felt a connection with Alys. First, who wouldn’t want a teacher who starts class this way? Second, Alys’ independence and contentment in living her life. As a single woman, she encourages her students to think beyond marrying (well) and starting a family at such a young age. Instead of viewing school and education as a way to pass the time until you receive a marriage proposal, Alys shows them through her example that happiness and fulfillment is possible outside of the societal norms in Pakistan. I would want Alys as my teacher, because if you’d never been exposed to different possibilities for young life, especially as a woman, how would you know to pursue them?

This was a truth universally acknowledged in Jane Austen’s day, so Alys, like Elizabeth Bennett was not content to settle for just anybody even if that’s socially expected and accept. All to the anguish and disappoint of one’s mother, Mrs. Binat. As a loving mother, who was at times obnoxious and overbearing Pinkie Binat was determined to make sure all of her daughters were well married. And I should add, funnier than I remembered from Pride and Prejudice. When the Binats are invited to one of the biggest weddings of the year, Pinkie will not miss out on the opportunity for potential marriage proposals for her beautiful daughters.

Alys and Jena’s embody the essence and spirit of Elizabeth and Jane but without feeling like carbon copies. Alys says what she thinks without hesitation while Jena sees the good in others. Their younger sisters are as we remember but I think Qitty was one of my favorite. Darsee (Darcy) and his good friend Bungles (Bingley) along with his awful sisters, Hammy and Sammy (twins in Unmarriageable) were as I remembered. Hammy and Sammy are twins which I thought a run perspective on their relationship as sisters but also the way they view Bungles and Jena. Sammy is married to Jaans, a man she can’t stand, but adds another dimension to the overall theme of the book while adding originality and humor, all characteristics of an Austen novel.

Sherry (Charlotte), close friend of Alys faces her own set of unique circumstances and I must thank the author for allowing me to see her through a different lense. I don’t remember having much emphaty for her in Pride and Prejudice but Kamal gives me a lot to think about with her and women like her even today. I can’t tell you what they are, you just have to read the book.

Unmarriageable is more than I anticipated. I gushed over all the literary references, nodded my head in agreement when I recognized quirks and character traits of Pride and Prejudice. I couldn’t help but laugh when the characters would mention how one of them was just like their counterpart from an Austen book. How perfect is that? Do we not see ourselves or our friends and family in the books we read? Alys and Darcee made it apparent that for book lovers it becomes obvious when we immerse ourselves in great books; literature has no boundaries.

Kamal has done a wonderful job with this book and I can highly recommend this one.

Published by booksbythecup

Lover of good books and tea

15 thoughts on “Unmarriageable – Review

  1. Such a wonderful review!!!! This was a great read for me too, especially with all the desi culture and references on top of the P&P stuff… double the fun šŸ˜ƒšŸ˜ƒšŸ˜ƒ

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my blogger friends has written two novels that are re-tellings of famous books from a different perspective. There’s Anusha of Prospect Corner, which is a re-telling of Anne of Green Gables from a Sri Lankan-American perspective, and the other is Amelia Elkins Elkins, which is a retelling of Persuasion by Jane Austen. You might like them! The author’s name is Amal, but her author name is A.M. Blair.

    Also, I know you’ve been thinking about doing a start-of-the-month post or a weekly wrap up or something like that. Here’s one that I think covers everything, is interesting, and something you could do! https://travelinggladly.com/2019/01/20/sunday-sum-up-01-20-2019/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I looked up the Persuasion retelling because it’s my favorite Austen book to date. Thank you! I need to read Anne of Green Gables so I’ll plan to pair these together.

      And thank you for the suggestion on the post idea. I love this one you’ve shared and had a couple variations I could make. I’ll tag both of you if I manage to finish the one I was planning for this week or next!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done! I adored this retelling! I felt the same way about Sherry, and I confess, I even like Mr Collins counterpart in this because of how he treated Sherry.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t always get on with modern retellings but I love the idea of this being set in an entirely different culture – that would be enough to give it its own originality. I’m sorely tempted… šŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

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