This sweet debut novel ticks all the boxes for one of summer’s best reads: It’s smart, witty, romantic and utterly charming. Taking cues from Pride and Prejudice, the story revolves around pretty Ayesha Shamsi, who, along with her Muslim family, lives across the street from the more conservative—and attractive—Khalid Mirza. As the two clash over everything from poetry to arranged marriage, they also begin to connect. When mistaken identity, troublesome relatives and workplace drama loom, it’s up to these two adorable characters to save the day and find their path to true love. —Suzanne Moutis
CBC: Uzma Jalaluddin’s novel Ayesha At Last subverts Muslim stereotypes in its look at romantic love
Uzma Jalaluddin is a teacher, parenting columnist and author based in Ontario. Her debut novel, Ayesha At Last, is the tale of a young Muslim woman who aspires to be a poet and must balance what her family expects of her with what she wants for herself. Things get tricky when she falls for Khalid, a young conservative man who is set to marry someone else.
Below, Jalaluddin tells CBC Books how she wrote Ayesha At Last.
Writing beyond the ‘immigrant experience’
“I knew I wanted to tell a story that was authentic to my own lived experience. I wanted to write something slightly different than other stories out there about South Asians and Muslims in particular. I read voraciously and widely — I’ve read and enjoyed so many books by different authors. But especially growing up as a child there weren’t a lot of books by diverse writers of colour. I always found books that actually spoke about the immigrant experience and people of colour were filtered through a condescending, sometimes erroneous lens.”
“This book actually came out of the ruins of another book which was going nowhere. I was out for lunch with a writer friend and she mentioned I could repurpose one of the characters from that book to build a new story. That was the character who ended up being the male lead, Khalid, in this book.
“I just had this funny image of this man who is an observant and conservative man in a big beard and wearing religious clothing with a skullcap. He just looks like the stereotypical ‘scary person’ and yet, he is a total romantic who has fallen completely in love with this girl. I thought it was so funny to look at the juxtaposition of people’s expectations of someone who looks and dresses like that versus his romantic heart. He jumped into my head and wouldn’t let go. From that character, the rest of the book sort of emerged very slowly, very painfully.”
TORONTO STAR: Toronto women on the future of feminism
Writer, teacher, Star columnist: “Samosas and Maple Syrup.” @UzmaWrites
Did you march? What should happen now?
I didn’t march but fully support the women who did. I’m an activist in daily life, behind the scenes. I think there’s a sense that something very fundamental about American society is under attack right now and people feel it on a visceral, personal level. For me, as someone who is very visible, I understand so many people who are being placed, viewed and treated as outsiders. They are in a position that is unfamiliar to them but I’ve lived within and without the outsider status all my life. I live in the intersection of faith, culture and feminism. All the social justice movements, especially feminism, need compassion, empathy, understanding and tolerance. It would also be nice to see a wider variety of stories out there. I believe in the power of words. I think that feminists need to read each other’s stories.
How can feminism bring people in?
The way forward is not just to lean in but to lean on each other. Once we realize that (it will) make us feel our voices are heard and empower us. Instead of being exclusionary, now is the time to welcome and celebrate what we all bring to this movement. The idea of not discounting people who don’t look like us or talk like us is so important, especially in Toronto.
CITYLINE: 5 tips for talking to your kids about global issues
It can be tough to talk to your children about what’s happening in the world. It’s a scary and sensitive topic. Editor-in-chief of Today’s Parent, Sasha Emmons and Toronto Star columnist, Uzma Jalaluddin share five tips and strategies for broaching these discussions with your kids.
- Be proactive in talking to your kids
You don’t want them to get all their information from kids at school, and chances are, they’ve heard things. However, ask them what they know and let their questions be your guide to giving them the right amount of information.
- Don’t scare them
If they’re young, kids may need to be reassured that what’s happening is far away and unlikely to happen to them. This may not be strictly true, but until around at least age seven, many kids may not be able to handle the idea that bad things happen.
TORONTO STAR: Keeping up with hijab chic
The first hijab I fell in love with was a large white cotton triangle bordered with three inches of dangling lace fringe. I tied the scarf in the only style that all truly cool hijabis were sporting: a twisty headband rolled on top, with a bandana underneath. The scarf was held together with safety pins, and most closely resembled my mom’s lace curtains.
I looked gooooood. Like, 1990s big-hair good.
I strutted around in this getup for most of junior high school, before graduating to the second hijab style that was trending. This involved a rectangular scarf that was pinned up, leaving the long end to dangle behind your back.
I still looked goooooood.
This was hijab chic in the ’90s. Those were simpler times. Back then the only places you could buy hijabs were small shops that also sold prayer beads, religious texts, exotic vegetables such as okra and bitter melon, and a few halal cows. It was your basic Walmart Supercentre for the newly immigrated set.