The ruthless marriage market, busybody aunties, lost dreams, retribution, and Shakespeare at every turn. Ayesha at Last ties together the story of two souls and their very different takes on life.
Ayesha Shamsi is a devout feminist with a mother who believes love is no good despite her love marriage, a grandfather who recites Shakespeare every chance he gets, and a spoiled, immature cousin she loves wholeheartedly. She breathes poetry but teaches a local high school class that constantly throws her into a panic.
Khalid is a simple, traditional man who thinks his conniving mother hangs the moon. Furthermore, his closest friend and coworker is adamant about changing Khalid’s lifestyle. In addition, his sister is in India, although he still keeps in touch despite his mother’s objections. To top it all off, his boss is severely Islamophobic.
They live across the street from each other, but their perspectives on life are worlds apart.
When Ayesha attends the mosque convention meetings in Hafsa’s place, she and Khalid slowly but surely form a bond. Only there’s one problem — Khalid thinks she is Hafsa. Unfortunately, his mother is aware of the switch and puts a plan in motion to make sure Khalid marries Hafsa — the real Hafsa.
When Khalid finally learns the truth, he chooses between his mother and his heart. Unfortunately, despite her feelings for Khalid, Ayesha stays silent and focuses on choosing between practical life and her dreams. It seems as if these two characters are as destined for each other as they are not.
Ayesha at Last is a well-written piece, complete with rich emotion, comedy, and suspenseful plot twists no one sees coming.
It brings about Muslim representation in the most natural and humorous of ways. The book does not include stereotypical depictions that tend to frequent the media, as it honestly shows the day-to-day lives of ordinary Muslim Canadians. We see a profound expression of faith in the book — but in a seamless, non-forced way.
Characters pray, go to the mosque, and are open about their faith, but that is not all they do. Their religious practices and beliefs combine with their lifestyles and daily activities. As a result, it’s not choppy or trying too hard; it’s fluid and shows the multi-faceted expanse of the characters.
I mean, Ayesha’s hijab is the centre frame of Khalid’s attraction to her: “Khalid is entranced by the girl in the purple hijab.” I nearly cried, knowing that it’s not her show of beauty, but rather, her protection of it and dedication to faith that entrances Khalid. He finds her beautiful at a deeper level than superficial.
Other dress descriptions include the unorthodox dress that Khalid chooses to partake in. He believes that his long white garb and skullcap, and long beard, are the way to go. Khalid doesn’t believe he needs to fit in with the rest of the crowd, and he doesn’t wear his traditional clothes because he has to; he wears them because he wants to.
Besides the captivating depictions of faith, there are intricate homages to the south-Asian culture. For example, Khalid makes parathay. I repeat: Khalid makes PARATHAY. Not only does Khalid cook delicious south-Asian dishes — and feeds Ayesha, mind you — many of the characters, including Ayesha’s grandmother, cook.
Food is a central aspect of the book, as it comforts many of the protagonists in times of need. It’s also shaking up the gender norms that frequent south-Asian culture, as most men are more talented at cooking than women.
Besides the aromatic depictions of south-Asian cuisine, we also have the clothes and the festivities specific to the culture. Many different variations of shalwar kameez grace our pages with their elegant embroidery and extrinsic beading. Specific traditions are a part of the engagement, and yes, the festivities run at least a week.
The story comes to life by depicting faith and culture in its rich, undiluted, non-stereotypical way.
Although, it’s not just about the representation; it’s also about the story. A story of family, foes and friends. The relationships bonded across the timeline of the book are unlike any other. We also see the characters’ journeys through grief, confusion and pain.
Ayesha focuses on her bond with her mother after her father’s passing. She learns that while love may be beautiful, we often shut it out just for safety. We don’t want to handle the aftermath, so we believe love will do us no good.
Ayesha also learns that while practicality and the family’s dues are essential, nothing is more important than our dreams. Ayesha is a lettered poet, and she believes that while failure may be more likely, chances only come once in a blue moon.
Khalid learns a few hard-earned lessons, as well. His relationship with his mother becomes strained as he learns that she isn’t the be-all and end-all. However, he learns to unlearn his rigidity, and he forms a stronger relationship with his sister as she returns to Canada.
Khalid stands up to his boss, takes his rightful client, and manages to save his friend. He forms a bond with Ayesha’s friend Clara, the HR rep at his work. He learns to be true to himself while “editing” his mind to be more open.
This story is not only an exquisite representation of the Muslim faith and south-Asian culture, which touches my heart greatly, but also an homage to the ups and downs of life. It’s the first time I read a book where I felt like the main character. I didn’t just relate to a few little aspects; I could understand every aspect inside and out.
Both Ayesha and Khalid learn about family complications, but they also learn the importance of chasing their passions. It’s a good life lesson. We work hard to survive, but when do we start living? When do we place our dreams above others’ ideals? When do we turn our dreams into goals?
The best advice is written within the book: “Just remember to pack light. Dreams tend to shatter if you’re carrying other people’s hopes around.“
Available where books are sold. Synopsis below.
Pride and Prejudice with a modern twist
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.
When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.