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Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal


by Soniah Kamal

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17615105,752 (3.91)16
"In this retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry--until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider. A scandal and vicious rumor in the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won't make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and start having children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire them to dream of more. When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for eligible--and rich--bachelors, certain that their luck is about to change. On the first night of the festivities, Alys's lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of one of the most eligible bachelors. But his friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her, and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. But as the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal--and Alys begins to realize that Darsee's brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance"--… (more)
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    Ayesha At Last: A Novel by Uzma Jalaluddin (cbl_tn)
    cbl_tn: Both books are inspired by Austen's Pride & Prejudice and are set in Muslim communities.

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Unmarriageable is a seamless blending of Pakistani culture and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It really is like Austen's work was lifted out of the 19th century and deposited in modern day Pakistan. The characters names are similar, as is the entire plot. It should be annoyingly derivative, but it's not. This was a light, enjoyable read, that pokes fun at patriarchy in Pakistan, provides beautiful role models for strength of character and independent thinking, and gives the reader a genuine happy ending. The only quibble I have is that I do not understand how Alys (the Elizabeth Bennett character) could be a teacher of English Literature, who assigns P&P to every 9th grade class, could not realize that she was basically living out the plot of that book. 3.5 stars ( )
  DGRachel | Jul 11, 2019 |
Delightful book! Clever, funny, well written. ( )
  RGilbraith | Jun 13, 2019 |
Surprisingly good, in fact probably the best Jane Austen-inspired /retelling that I've read. IT sticks to the original remarkably closely but also feels true to its time and place and provides a fresh spin on it. I liked the self-awareness it had and how it brings in other similar pieces of literature from between Austen's day and today. ( )
  nicole_a_davis | Jun 11, 2019 |
Alys was talking to an ex-student, Sarah… At the moment she and Alys were discussing potential thesis topics.

“You can,” Alys suggested, “ask if friendships in Austen are more complex between friends or sisters. Or explore who jumps class in Austen and whose class cannot be forgiven, overlooked, or worked around. Or compare colonizer Babington Macaulay and Kipling’s ‘England’s Jane’ with a ‘World’s Jane,’ a ‘Pakistani Jane,’ a ‘Post-Colonial Jane,’ Edward Said’s Jane. What might Jane make of all these Janes? Discuss empire writing back, weaving its own stories.”

Unmarriageable, a Pakistani Pride and Prejudice, is empire writing back. The novel is written primarily from the perspective of Alysba “Alys” Binat, the second of five daughters of Barkat and “Pinkie” Binat. Alys and her older sister, Jenazba (“Jena”) are thirty-something teachers at the British School of Dilipabad, a fictional town located about a two-hour drive from Lahore. The Binat family have been invited to attend a wedding which is Dilipabad’s event of the season. At the festivities, they meet Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, his sisters, and his aloof friend, Valentine Darsee. Readers who are familiar with Pride and Prejudice can guess where the story goes from here.

Some aspects of Austen’s original translate well to early 21st century Pakistan, such as issues of class and Mary’s piety (with Kamal’s Mari aspiring to Islamic piety). I was less persuaded by the feminist Alys of the novel. Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet was unconventional for her time, but not disrespectful, selfish, or unkind. I often found Alys hard to like and her behavior difficult to condone. ( )
  cbl_tn | Apr 25, 2019 |
Soniah Kamal's retelling of Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice (P and P) was an entertaining read. Pakistan and Austen's world share many of the same constraints on women--especially an emphasis on marrying well over for love and a total unacceptance of premarital sex.

In Unmarriageable, Elizabeth and Jane become Alys and Jena Binat, schoolteachers who have intelligence and beauty yet are spinsters in their early thirties. Jena is shy and sweet; Alys is an ardent feminist who pushes her students to think for themselves.

The younger sisters include the Muslim fundamentalist Mari, the precocious boy-crazy and fashion-obsessed Lady, and the unhappily overweight Qitty. The family is not of the best kind, for Mr. Binat was bilked out of his inheritance which brought downsizing in house and budget, and Mrs. Binat's grandmother is rumored to have been a prostitute.

Aly's friend Sherry is forty-one but still has hopes of 'grabbing' a husband and finally experiencing a sexual encounter with a man. Every evening Alys and Sherry meet in the local cemetery, and under the pretense of feeding the birds, enjoy a cigarette and a heart-to-heart talk.

Alys and Jena meet the well-to-do Bungles and Darsee at a wedding celebration. Bungles is obviously taken by Jena. But she won't make 'you-you' eyes at him for fear of being considered a slut. Alys and Darsee, of course, stumble through a series of misunderstandings and dislike.

Just reading about Pakistani wedding traditions is interesting. And the fashions! The food! Oh, how my mouth watered over eggplant in tomatoes, ginger chicken, seekh kabobs, naan, korma, and rose-flavored cake with a cup of chai.

The novel is not a rewriting of Austen's classic but does follow the plot line. We know what is going to happen. But I completely enjoyed this novel for on its own merits.

Kamal channels Austen's irony.

When Jena twists her ankle, Bungles carries her to the car and rushes to the clinic. Kamal writes, "The clinic was an excellent facility, as all facilities that carer to excellent people tend to be, because excellent people demand excellence, unlike those who are grateful for what they receive."

There is a lot of talk about literature. Book titles are dropped throughout many conversations. The characters often speak about Austen in an ironic twist.

Annie Benna dey Bagh comments that she found P and P "helpful in an unexpected way...I decided that, no matter how ill I got, I'd never turn or be turned into Anne de Bourgh."

"Thankfully, we don't live in a novel," Alys comments. And yet Sherry channels Charlotte Lucas in marrying for financial security although she does have the choice to be self-supporting.

Darsee and Alys agree on many points in these conversations about literature and Pakistan's colonial heritage.

"I believe, Alys said to Darsee, "A book and an author can belong to more than one country or culture. English came with the colonizers, but its literature is part of our heritage took as in pre-partition writing."

When Wickaam comes on the scene, English Literature teacher Alys is appalled by his preference that films are better than books. He is drop-dead gorgeous and spins his lies to cover his unsavory history.

Kamal includes loads of nods to Austen. Minor characters are named Thomas Fowle and Harris Bigg-Wither, real people in Jane's life.

Alys often parodies the famous opening line of P and P, such as "it was a truth universally acknowledged that people enter our lives in order to recommend reads."

Thankfully, a Goodreads win brought this book into my life! ( )
  nancyadair | Mar 21, 2019 |
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It is a truth universally acknowledged that a girl can go from pauper to princess or princess to pauper in the mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal.
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