Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
TYPE OF NOVEL: Pride and Prejudice Modern-Day Retelling
SETTING: Pakistan 2000-2001
SYNOPSIS: Due to their families reduced circumstances and disgraced reputations all five daughters of the Binat family remain unmarried. Although, perhaps for second eldest daughter Alysba (Alys) it is also her choice not to marry. In Pakistani culture, where marrying well and achieving VIP status are the primary objectives, Alys Binat, instead pursues her own educational and professional aspirations. Working as an English-literature school teacher brings Alys a lot of joy, and she isn’t about to trade in her independence and happiness to become someone’s obedient and subservient wife. Even if she is 30 and her mother continuously badgers her about marriage.
WHAT I LOVED:
- Setting and Culture: What interested me most about this story is that it took place in Pakistan. I loved seeing a world I know very well (Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice) collide with a world I know very little about. I thoroughly enjoyed all the details about life in Pakistan, the descriptions of food and clothing, and the background of Pakistani traditions and history. I loved the sense of virtually visiting, observing, and understanding another way of life through this story.
- Striking Parallels: While it is very typical for modern-day P&P stories to include lots of parallels and similar events to Jane Austen’s original novel, the turn of the century in Pakistan shares so much common ground and similarities to Jane Austen’s Regency England. Between the significanat importance of marriage and reputation, the class distinction and prejudice, the patriarchal society – none of the parallels felt forced, false, or awkward. As Chandler Bing might say “Could Pakistan in the early 2000s BE any more similar to Jane Austen’s world?”
- A New Lens: Since our modern world is different in so many ways from Jane Austen’s, there can be sometimes a bit of hinderance to fully understanding or relating to the conflicts and situations her characters faced. Charlotte Lucas is unmarried and dependent on her family at age 27 – is that so bad? Lydia causes scandal that threatens her family’s good name and reputation – will it really produce lasting negative effects? If both of these situations occurred in our modern-day society, it wouldn’t cause as much scandal or concern. But in different cultures, it is a different story. It was revealing to see life through Sherry Looclus’s (Charlotte) eyes and understand how being 41 and unmarried is something she desperately needs to escape. In addition, seeing the possible repercussions on Jena and Alys’s lives and jobs brought home how one sibling’s actions could truly ruin her family.
- Echos of Jane Austen: Like Jane Austen, Soniah Kamal writes about heroines who think for themselves, who hold onto different values, who aren’t afraid to defy convention, or put their own happiness first. I enjoyed seeing the author’s voice quietly yet firmly challenge the traditions and society of her time.
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
- Close Translation: Even though the events of P&P so naturally and effortlessly translated into Pakistan society, I wouldn’t have minded if this tale followed its own course a little more. While the paralleled events were interesting, I enjoyed the clever twists and author’s original ideas more.
- Footnotes/Glossary: With many words or phrases in Urdu appearing in the text, I would have loved for some footnotes or a Glossary in the back of the book. Especially when it came to understanding the difference between mehndi, nikah, and walima – which are different wedding rituals and ceremonies.
NOTE: Due to the occasional use of profanity (not frequent) and use of innuendo I would recommend this story for readers above the age of 13.
Unmarriageable is a beautifully authentic and compelling modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice. One that stands out for its culturally diverse dynamic, vibrant details, and inspiring messages about family, values, and marriage. I highly recommend!