“A fun, page-turning romp and a thought-provoking look at the class-obsessed strata of Pakistani society.”—NPR
A scandal and vicious rumor concerning 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 have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.
When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles’s 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. 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.
Told with wry wit and colorful prose, Unmarriageable is a charming update on Jane Austen’s beloved novel and an exhilarating exploration of love, marriage, class, and sisterhood.
Praise for Unmarriageable
“Delightful . . . Unmarriageable introduces readers to a rich Muslim culture. . . . [Kamal] observes family dramas with a satiric eye and treats readers to sparkling descriptions of a days-long wedding ceremony, with its high-fashion pageantry and higher social stakes.”—Star Tribune
“Thoroughly charming.”—New York Post
“[A] funny, sometimes romantic, often thought-provoking glimpse into Pakistani culture, one which adroitly illustrates the double standards women face when navigating sex, love, and marriage. This is a must-read for devout Austenites.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
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.
When Alysba Binat began working at age twenty as the English-literature teacher at the British School of Dilipabad, she had thought it would be a temporary solution to the sudden turn of fortune that had seen Mr. Barkat “Bark” Binat and Mrs. Khushboo “Pinkie” Binat and their five daughters—Jenazba, Alysba, Marizba, Qittyara, and Lady—move from big-city Lahore to backwater Dilipabad. But here she was, ten years later, thirty years old, and still in the job she’d grown to love despite its challenges. Her new batch of ninth-graders was starting Pride and Prejudice, and their first homework had been to rewrite the opening sentence of Jane Austen’s novel, always a fun activity and a good way for her to get to know her students better.
After Alys took attendance, she opened a fresh box of multicolored chalks and invited the girls to share their sentences on the blackboard. The first to jump up was Rose-Nama, a crusader for duty and decorum, and one of the more trying students. Rose-Nama deliberately bypassed the colored chalks for a plain white one, and Alys braced herself for a reimagined sentence exulting a traditional life—marriage, children, death. As soon as Rose-Nama ended with mere seconds it takes for her to accept a proposal, the class erupted into cheers, for it was true: A ring did possess magical powers to transform into pauper or princess. Rose-Nama gave a curtsy and, glancing defiantly at Alys, returned to her desk.
“Good job,” Alys said. “Who wants to go next?”
As hands shot up, she glanced affectionately at the girls at their wooden desks, their winter uniforms impeccably washed and pressed by dhobis and maids, their long braids (for good girls did not get a boyish cut like Alys’s) draped over their books, and she wondered who they’d end up becoming by the end of high school. She recalled herself at their age—an eager-to-learn though ultimately naïve Ms. Know-It-All.
“Miss Alys, me me me,” the class clown said, pumping her hand energetically.
Alys nodded, and the girl selected a blue chalk and began to write.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young girl in possession of a pretty face, a fair complexion, a slim figure, and good height is not going to happily settle for a very ugly husband if he doesn’t have enough money, unless she has the most incredible bad luck (which my cousin does).
The class exploded into laughter and Alys smiled too.
“My cousin’s biggest complaint,” the girl said, her eyes twinkling, “is that he’s so hairy. Miss Alys, how is it fair that girls are expected to wax everywhere but boys can be as hairy as gorillas?”
“Double standards,” Alys said.
“Oof,” Rose-Nama said. “Which girl wants a mustache and a hairy back? I don’t.”
A chorus of, I don’ts filled the room, and Alys was glad to see all the class energized and participating.
“I don’t either,” Alys said complacently, “but the issue is that women don’t seem to have a choice that is free from judgment.”
“Miss Alys,” called out a popular girl. “Can I go next?”
It is unfortunately not a truth universally acknowledged that it is better to be alone than to have fake friendships.
As soon as she finished the sentence, the popular girl tossed the pink chalk into the box and glared at another girl across the room. Great, Alys thought, as she told her to sit down; they’d still not made up. Alys was known as the teacher you could go to with any issue and not be busted, and both girls had come to her separately, having quarreled over whether one could have only one best friend. Ten years ago, Alys would have panicked at such disruptions. Now she barely blinked. Also, being one of five sisters had its perks, for it was good preparation for handling classes full of feisty girls.
Another student got up and wrote in red:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that every marriage, no matter how good, will have ups and downs.
“This class is a wise one,” Alys said to the delighted girl.
The classroom door creaked open from the December wind, a soft whistling sound that Alys loved. The sky was darkening and rain dug into the school lawn, where, weather permitting, classes were conducted under the sprawling century-old banyan tree and the girls loved to let loose and play rowdy games of rounders and cricket. Cold air wafted into the room and Alys wrapped her shawl tightly around herself. She glanced at the clock on the mildewed wall.
“We have time for a couple more sentences,” and she pointed to a shy girl at the back. The girl took a green chalk and, biting her lip, began to write:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you are the daughter of rich and generous parents, then you have the luxury to not get married just for security.
“Wonderful observation,” Alys said kindly, for, according to Dilipabad’s healthy rumor mill, the girl’s father’s business was currently facing setbacks. “But how about the daughter earn a good income of her own and secure this freedom for herself?”
“Yes, Miss,” the girl said quietly as she scuttled back to her chair.
Rose-Nama said, “It’s Western conditioning to think independent women are better than homemakers.”
“No one said anything about East, West, better, or worse,” Alys said. “Being financially independent is not a Western idea. The Prophet’s wife, Hazrat Khadijah, ran her own successful business back in the day and he was, to begin with, her employee.”
Rose-Nama frowned. “Have you ever reimagined the first sentence?”
Alys grabbed a yellow chalk and wrote her variation, as she inevitably did every year, ending with the biggest flourish of an exclamation point yet.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband!
“How,” Alys said, “does this gender-switch from the original sentence make you feel? Can it possibly be true or can you see the irony, the absurdity, more clearly now?”
The classroom door was flung open and Tahira, a student, burst in. She apologized for being late even as she held out her hand, her fingers splayed to display a magnificent four-carat marquis diamond ring.
“It happened last night! Complete surprise!” Tahira looked excited and nervous. “Ammi came into my bedroom and said, ‘Put away your homework-shomework, you’re getting engaged.’ Miss Alys, they are our family friends and own a textile mill.”
“Well,” Alys said, “well, congratulations,” and she rose to give her a hug, even as her heart sank. Girls from illustrious feudal families like sixteen-year-old Tahira married early, started families without delay, and had grandchildren of their own before they knew it. It was a lucky few who went to college while the rest got married, for this was the Tao of obedient girls in Dilipabad; Alys went so far as to say the Tao of good girls in Pakistan.
Yet it always upset her that young brilliant minds, instead of exploring the universe, were busy chiseling themselves to fit into the molds of Mrs. and Mom. It wasn’t that she was averse to Mrs. Mom, only that none of the girls seemed to have ever considered traveling the world by themselves, let alone been encouraged to do so, or to shatter a glass ceiling, or laugh like a madwoman in public without a care for how it looked. At some point over the years, she’d made it her job to inject (or as some, like Rose-Nama’s mother, would say, “infect”) her students with possibility. And even if the girls in this small sleepy town refused to wake up, wasn’t it her duty to try? How grateful she’d have been for such a teacher. Instead, she and her sisters had also been raised under their mother’s motto to marry young and well, an expectation neither thirty-year-old Alys, nor her elder sister, thirty-two-year-old Jena, had fulfilled.
In the year 2000, in the lovely town of Dilipabad, in the lovelier state of Punjab, women like Alys and Jena were, as far as their countrymen and -women were concerned, certified Miss Havishams, Charles Dickens’s famous spinster who’d wasted away her life. Actually, Alys and Jena were considered even worse off, for they had not enjoyed Miss Havisham’s good luck of having at least once been engaged.
As Alys watched, the class swarmed around Tahira, wishing out loud that they too would be blessed with such a ring and begin their real lives.
“Okay, girls,” she finally said. “Settle down. You can ogle the diamond after class. Tahira, you too. I hope you did your homework? Can you share your sentence on the board?”
Tahira began writing with an orange chalk, her ring flashing like a big bright light bulb at the blackboard—exactly the sort of ring, Alys knew, her own mother coveted for her daughters.
It is a truth universally acknowledged in this world and beyond that having an ignorant mother is worse than having no mother at all.
“There,” Tahira said, carefully wiping chalk dust off her hands. “Is that okay, Miss?”
Alys smiled. “It’s an opinion.”
“It’s rude and disrespectful,” Rose-Nama called out. “Parents can never be ignorant.”
“What does ignorant mean in this case, do you think?” Alys said. “At what age might one’s own experiences outweigh a parent’s?”
“Never,” Rose-Nama said frostily. “Miss Alys, parents will always have more experience and know what is best for us.”
“Well,” Alys said, “we’ll see in Pride and Prejudice how the main character and her mother start out with similiar views, and where and why they begin to separate.”
“Miss Alys,” Tahira said, sliding into her seat, “my mother said I won’t be attending school after my marriage, so I was wondering, do I still have to do assign—”
“Yes.” Alys calmly cut her off, having heard this too many times. “I expect you to complete each and every assignment, and I also urge you to request that your parents and fiancé, and your mother-in-law, allow you to finish high school.”
“I’d like to,” Tahira said a little wistfully. “But my mother says there are more important things than fractions and ABCs.”
Alys would have offered to speak to the girl’s mother, but she knew from previous experiences that her recommendation carried no weight. An unmarried woman advocating pursuits outside the home might as well be a witch spreading anarchy and licentiousness.
“Just remember,” Alys said quietly, “there is more to life than getting married and having children.”
“But, Miss,” Tahira said hesitantly, “what’s the purpose of life without children?”
“The same purpose as there would be with children—to be a good human being and contribute to society. Look, plenty of women physically unable to have children still live perfectly meaningful lives, and there are as many women who remain childless by choice.”
Rose-Nama glared. “That’s just wrong.”
“It’s not wrong,” Alys said gently. “It’s relative. Not every woman wants to keep home and hearth, and I’m sure not every man wants to be the breadwinner.”
“What does he want to do, then?” Rose-Nama said. “Knit?”
Alys painstakingly removed a fraying silver thread from her black shawl. Finally she said, in an even tone, “You’ll all be pleased to see that there are plenty of marriages in Pride and Prejudice.”
“Why do you like the book so much, then?” Rose-Nama asked disdainfully.
“Because,” Alys said simply, “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.”
Alys erased the blackboard and wrote, Elizabeth Bennet: First Impressions?, then turned to lead the discussion among the already buzzing girls. None of them had previously read Pride and Prejudice, but many had watched the 1995 BBC drama and were swooning over the scene in which Mr. Darcy emerged from the lake on his Pemberley property in a wet white shirt. She informed them that this particular scene was not in the novel and that, in Austen’s time, men actually swam naked. The girls burst into nervous giggles.
“Miss,” a few of the girls, giddy, emboldened, piped up, “when are you getting married?”
“Never.” Alys had been wondering when this class would finally get around to broaching the topic.
“But why not!” several distressed voices cried out. “You’re not that old. And, if you grow your hair long again and start using bright lipstick, you will be so pret—”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.5 STARS! Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal is a modern retelling of Jane Austen's classic story, Pride & Prejudice. I loved the cultural aspect. It was very traditional. We have these strong women from Pakistan who want an education and to be empowered and not worry about finding a husband. Alysba Binat and Valentine Darsee were opposites. They have this fierce hate-love relationship. It was great seeing them bicker back and forth. And I especially loved reading and learning about the Binat family. They were funny, at moments rather crude, and misunderstood. I love how the author connected the original points from Pride & Prejudice to this modern rendition. Above all I loved getting to learn about the culture and traditions of Pakistan. The food sounded divine! Though the writing was strong, I did find the itself dragged a bit with all the detail. Also, I would have loved more encounters and angsty moments between Alys and Darsee. Overall, I recommend this novel to lovers of P&P and anyone who loves good cultural literature. This story was truly charming and enthralling.
I received this book from NetGalley to review, and enjoyed it! This is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice in a Pakistani setting. The characters were varied, and there were many that I could see in my own life here in the U.S., proving once again how universal families and relationships are. There is much to think about with the expectations forced on us as women, as members of families, and as members of communities, and with the changeable nature of what is acceptable based on your station in society or who your family is. I enjoyed this book and the author is skilled at bringing the reader to the setting of the story and making you feel like you understand what it is like there.
“Unmarriageable” by Soniah Kamal is a modern day re-telling of Pride and Prejudice set in Pakistan. It tells the story of Alys Binat and her sisters dealing with pressures from the mother and society to get married. They grow up in a culture where woman are married while still in high school and some don’t even finish school, where a woman being married is more important than her having a career, where marriage is everything and finding love is not as important as marrying a wealthy man. To be honest, I have not read Pride and Prejudice, but I am familiar with the story. I thought that Kamal did a good job of keeping to the story, but adding some modern twists. The way she kept the names as close to the originals was very cute in my opinion. Her description of the culture in Pakistan was very well done as well. I didn’t go into this book thinking that I would like it as much as I ended up liking it. It started off slightly slow, but when they got to the wedding festivities it picked up, and I was hooked! Although I knew how the book would turn out, I wanted to keep reading especially to see how Alys and Darsee’s story unfolded. I was routing for them to get together the entire time I was reading. I would definitely recommend this book especially to anyone who loves Pride and Prejudice. Thank you NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group – Ballentine for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC of this book! I know there will be purists out there who will criticize this book, comparing it to Pride and Prejudice, pulling it apart piece by piece in an effort to demonstrate their own sage comparisons to a classic work of literature. I don't care. It's fun! I loved the depictions of the Binat (Bennett) family, including Jena, Alys, Qitty, Mari, and Lady (Jane, Elizabeth, Kitty, May, & Lydia), and all of the others. The banter was quite amusing. I thought it was a clever reimagining of the original in Pakistan, where apparently, things are not so different now from the way they were during the time depicted in Jane Austen's novels. I feel like I learned a lot about life in Pakistan, which I'm going to take as truth because of the author’s background. I realize this was a work of fiction, but nevertheless, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” I loved the intro to the novel where Alys asks her students to update the quote above (from Austen). There were several times I highlighted observations made because of their universality, and it's impossible to choose just one to share, but I'll share the two I liked best (at least for today): “Easier to commemorate history when you've been the colonizer and not the colonized,” and “Internal misogyny has made a mockery of female solidarity.” For me, regarding this novel as a reimagining of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice imbued it with a richness rooted in history. Had I read it as a completely original novel based on an original idea, I would have enjoyed it just as much. I highly recommend this book and I think it can be enjoyed by just about anyone.
I know I am a little late to the party in writing my review of UNMARRIAGEABLE. Ms Kamal has already had praises and accolades heaped on her by many prestigious sources. I echo their enthusiasm and delight in this brilliant book. A few years ago there seemed to be a myriad of Austen themed novels. A reading friend told me that I seemed to be on a journey of "all things Austen". These authors may have been quite different from the original Jane, but they still captured the universal themes that have made Jane Austen's tales live on for over 200 years. In UNMARRIAGEABLE, the author sticks to re-telling PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. The setting is Pakistan in the first year of the new millennium. Some of the minor characters are a little more fleshed out, but major ones still share the flaws and foibles of the originals. I knew little about Pakistani culture and loved learning differences and some things we all seem to share. The food sounded so delicious, I wanted to rush out and find a restaurant that served such lovely food. It still seems even in the twenty-first century, that Pakistani women are expected to get married and raise children as the highest goal. When Alys rebels and speaks out against such practices she is chastised and pitied. Even in modern American culture, where women are marrying later and being single is not frowned on, there is still the undercurrent of getting married to fit in society. There is a good bit of satire in the story as Ms. Kamal looks at the obsession with class and wealth that includes having the best designer clothes and the most outrageously expensive wedding. As in most cultures looks and body size is of utmost importance for women, but men can get away with pot bellies and less than movie star looks. I met Sonia Kamal many years ago at a local Barnes and Noble book club. I saw her as a lady with a lovely spirit who was brilliant and articulate. A few months ago I saw her at a local author's event and she gave me a card and told me she had a book coming out in January. I was so happy for her. She has already had many events and I had the pleasure of attending a fairly intimate books talk and signing recently. She shared her journey in writing this book and brought it even more alive for me. She spoke of an earlier book that she could not get published in the United States. I have ordered it and look forward to its different style. I wish Soniah Kamal all the best with UNMARRIAGEABLE and look forward to future books.
The setting: "[a] retelling of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, the five Binat sisters and their marriage-obsessed mother navigate a world where money trumps morality and double standards rule the day." Of course, the Binat family has no fortune and bad luck. And, there is a Darsee [Darcy]. The heroine is Alys, "the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, [who] has found happiness teaching English literature to school girls." Much of the book centers around Alys--who I liked. A fast read with much humor --which often found me chuckling. "Mrs. Fecker's gargantuan eyelashes, supposedly imported from Milan, were apparently weighing down her eyes because it took her a moment to recognize Mr. and Mrs. Bark Binat." "... balding, sartorially dismal man." "...dressed in flapper-style long frocks... the twins looked like shredded streamers." What I most enjoyed--learning of the local Pakistani culture and customs. BUT. If you know the story of Pride and Prejudice [and who doesn't], there aren't many surprises. So, in that respect, too neat. Nonetheless, often charming so it kept me going. Sometimes a 3.5, but not enough to round up. Question: Why is it set in 2000 and 2001?
Over the last eighteen months, I have made a point of reading more fiction written by authors of Asian and/or Middle Eastern ethnicity so I was very excited to see the retelling of a favorite classic, Pride and Prejudice. Alys Binat and her family are a less-than-traditional Pakistani family trying to make ends meet following several family scandals. Alys is fiercely independent and modern, maturing to an "unmarriageable" age in a society where a woman's worth depends upon her making a good match. When a local well-to-do family hosts the wedding event of the year, a series of meetings will change the lives of the Binat family forever. Unmarriageable is a clever modern-day romance filled with insight into Pakistani patriarchal culture while still embracing the unique beauty of a particular Asian culture. While updating the familiar storyline of Pride and Prejudice, Soniah Kamal critically examines the complex social standards faced by women across cultural boundaries. This is a fun read which deftly asks questions about what makes up a person's worth. Although I initially struggled with the number of characters and family histories, once the back stories were established, I struggled to put this book down and engage with the "real world" again. The cultural and geographical illustrations and the engaging and diverse characters had me by turns delighted and disgusted and fully immersed in a story for which I already knew the ending, and still could not wait for all the threads of plotline to resolve. Highly recommended for fans of Jane Austen, the culturally curious, readers who prefer diverse authors and anyone who enjoys a light-hearted romance with fierce cultural commentary. Thank you to Netgalley for a free copy in return for unbiased review.
Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. While Kamal precisely follows the plot points of the original, the story is set in modern-day Pakistan (circa 2000) and portrays an economically-focused social hierarchy in which women are defined in terms of what they wear and to whom they are married. In the interests of fairness, Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favorite novels. I tend to be tough on retells and extensions. Unmarriageable provides enough detail of Pakistani culture to be interesting. It offers all of the characters we expect, although their edges are sharper and their demeanors harsher than Austen’s original. While Austen presents even her villains with affection and understanding, Kamal’s characters often come off as superficial and crass. Also, largely absent are the unforgettable language, the acerbic wit, and social commentary of the original. Kamal deserves credit for attempting the herculean task of retelling a beloved classic. Ultimately, the effort falters because the need to conform to the original becomes contrived. Neither the story nor the characters are ever fully the Kamal’s. If you have never read Pride and Prejudice, treat yourself and read it. If you have read it, give this a try.
Unmarriageable is an inventive Pride & Prejudice retelling set in Pakistan. The patriarchal nature of Pakistani culture paired well for modernizing Austen’s story. It’s an update, to be sure, but the Binat girls face many of the same constraints as the Bennets. My heart really went out to Alys and the way she tried to rise above those constraints, believing she does not need to get married and focusing more on her career. Indeed, the antics her mother and best friend engage in serve to only underscore her point. While society may not know what to do with an unmarried woman, Alys is right that a bad marriage, particularly in a patriarchal society, can be a cage stifling the woman in it. But of course the delight of any P&P retelling is seeing her fall for the exception to her rule. Alys and Darsee are antagonistic and complex and I loved watching them learn more about each other, as they realize how wrong their first impressions were. There were some fun meta moments, like when Alys declared she’d never want to marry someone like Darcy the way Elizabeth did or Annie saying she never wanted to be sickly and voiceless like Anne de Bourgh. It’s a book-lovers story riddled with literary references to great effect. I particularly enjoyed Darsee and Alys's book discussions and the moment he gave her a copy of Sunlight On A Broken Column, which I now want to read. Plus, Soniah Kamal’s social commentary on feminism, classism, and colonialism made for a truly engaging read. If I have one small complaint, it's the amount of fat-shaming throughout the story. Qitty is brow-beaten, especially by Lady and Mrs. Binat, for her weight. Yes, it says something about their characters, and yes, at the end she thankfully gets her due with a body positive image but as a white American woman reading it, I cringed on Qitty's behalf every time. I suspect this may be part of Pakistani culture: just as everyone comments on each other's marital status, they comment on weight and looks as well. P&P isn’t my favorite of Austen’s work and so whenever Unmarriageable adhered closely to my least favorite parts of the original—every Bennet/Binat gets on my last nerve, and that can include Elizabeth/Alys—I struggled. I've always been more sympathetic to Darcy/Darsee regarding how awful the Bennets can be. However, there’s a reason Austen's work has endured and I’m grateful it’s led to stories like this. I'll be curious to see what Pakistani reviewers make of it. CW: fat-shaming, slut-shaming, colonialism, classism, characters making references to killing themselves for the sake of drama, character states Alys is lucky he's not the sort of man who would throw acid on her Disclosure: I received an advanced copy from Ballantine Books in exchange for an honest review.
Unmarriageable reminded me a little of Mona Lisa Smile and Pride and Prejudice in watching others getting married for money so they can improve the family name and fortune. I am a huge fan of Jane Austen and how her books have inspired love in the Victorian age and it has always been authentic and true. It is such a treat to be reminded of those masterpieces and sometimes the greatest love stories always happen to people that either a) Do not believe in love b) Never have found love and are close to giving up. That is why we give this book 5 stars.
Unmarriageable puts the familiar story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in an unfamiliar (to me) setting of Pakistan. This mixture of a familiar story in an unfamiliar culture was both fascinating and frustrating. I loved that through reading Alys and Jena Binat’s story I was learning a new culture, but also frustrating because that culture, even in modern times, doesn’t treat women well. In some cases, worse than the Bennett ladies in 1797 England. My emotions fluctuated from fascination to outrage as each scene was revealed yet kept me reading at the same time- pushing for the finish line because I couldn’t wait for the novel to be finished with the happy ending I fully expected. As with the Bennett family, the Binat family has fallen on hard times and due to their lack of money their social standing in Pakistan society has fallen. The two elder daughters, Alys and Jena, have an honorable position as teachers in an all girls school, but at the same time are dishonored for having to work and bring in an income for their family. Alys our main protagonist is a modern woman. Outspoken, educated and honest she has visions of living her life without being forced to marry. Her mother, however, just wants to see all of her daughters settled, both for their own good but also to help raise their families social standing. Mrs. Binat was a termagant raised in an era where the quality of your marriage defined your life, she harangued, nagged, and spoke down to her daughters so much that it was hard to see the love behind her words and actions. Unmarriageble mirrored Pride and Prejudice so much that it took away some of the pleasure of reading the novel. The only good distraction was the setting of Pakistan. An area of the world that I am completely unfamiliar with except in news stories or rare visits to a local restaurant or international grocery store. I really enjoyed reading about the clothing, food, and culture of courtship and marriage, even if I disagreed with the ages of the bride and groom in some instances. Knowing arranged marriages still take place in some cultures is one thing, but this novel made that so much more real. As far as the actual story, I could obviously identify with the more modern Alys and rooted for her love story with Darsee. I would have liked a little more creative license taken with the storyline but Pride and Prejudice is popular for a reason. Alys does finally see Darsee for the grumpy ‘prince’ that he is and falls in love regardless of her misinterpretations of everything he does throughout the novel. The shenanigans of the rest of the Binat girls added more color, but also gave a great sense of the struggles women in Pakistani culture have balancing the modern with tradition. The setting, food, and colorful scenery balanced out my frustrations with those original plot similarities leaving me with only a slight sense of dissatisfaction. Did I love the novel? Not really. I enjoyed reading about a different culture and I was left with empathy for the struggles women are going through but in the end it was that lack of adding a newness to an already re-told (a million times) plot that left me in that gray area of it wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either. ❤️❤️❤️❣️ I was given a free ARC of this novel through NetGalley for my honest review and it was honest!
In the novel Unmarriageable, the main character Alys discusses literature and authors with a friend: "O'Connor, Austen, Alcott, Wharton. Characters' emotions and situations are universally applicable across cultures, whether you're wearing an empire dress, shalwar kurta, or kimono." Kamal proves that point beautifully with this retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The characters are familiar--Alys Binat and her older sister Jenna, along with younger siblings Lady, Qitty, and Mari and love interest Valentine Darsee--and their plot lines are straight out of Austen. Yet the refreshing change of scene (and time period--this story is contemporary, taking place in the early 2000s) makes for a fresh spin on the story. Alys is decidedly feminist, and her best friend, Sherry, views things with a more experience eye than Austen's Charlotte. One of the things I enjoyed the most was that the character of Alys is an Austen fan herself--she assigns her students to write a different ending to the famous beginning of P&P ("It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife"). Alys is able to discuss the state of women and the social mores of Pakistan with a critical eye, especially in relation to Austen's time. And in doing so, she (and Kamal) doesn't shy away from more difficult subjects. But forget all that. Forget what a clever update this is. Even if you've never read P&P, the story is simply fun. The Pakistani food (this novel will make you hungry) and parties and customs are not ones I've read much about, so it was a wonderful insight into another culture. The school life was so interesting (Alys and Jena are both teachers), and I learned a lot about what is expected of both the teachers and the students. The romance is sweet, and I was so sorry to leave the Binats' world when the story ended. A fantastic novel!
Unmarriageable is a well-written and enlightening, retelling of the classic novel, Pride & Prejudice. This book is set in modern-day Pakistan and is crafted with rich cultural details, natural dialogue, and humor. Barkat Binat was cheated out of his inheritance, by his brother. Financially, Barkat had no choice but to move his wife and five daughters, from their affluent neighborhood to a small town, Dilipibad. Barkat’s two oldest daughters, Alys and Jena, worked as teachers, and contributed to the household expenses, keeping the family afloat. The story follows the Binat daughters, their heartaches, humiliations, and joys, as well as the men who captured their hearts. Valentine Darsee was my favorite character. He’s a loyal, generous, and wealthy man. He did his best to win Alys Binat’s heart. She, however, much to Valentine’s dismay, was infatuated with, Wickaam, his good-for-nothing cousin. Wickaam was a devilishly handsome scoundrel and a shameless flirt. He left painful imprints on every heart he snagged. I found the story captivating, and the author’s descriptions of Pakistan’s culture fascinating, and educational. I did not like Mrs. Binat, at all. I found her to be controlling, conniving, and more than willing to marry her daughters off to the highest bidder. The many different personalities in this book are well depicted and add depth to the story. If you enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, and wouldn’t mind reading, a retelling of the classic, in a modern-day Pakistan setting, then this book is for you. A fascinating read. Thank you, Ballantine Books and NetGalley, for my advanced review copy!
Soniah Kamal, Author of “Unmarriageable” “Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan” has written a thought-provoking, intense, entertaining, witty, unique, cultural and contemporary novel. The Genres for this Novel are Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Humor, Romance, Contemporary, and Satire. The timeline for this story is set in the present and goes to the past when it pertains to the characters or events in the story. The author describes her colorful characters as complex and complicated. I appreciate that Soniah Kamal discusses the cultural differences in Pakistan between the weathy and poor classes. Of noted interest is the dilemma facing the Pakastanian family with young girls, seeking to get them married as quickly as they can. and to someone of both class and wealth. The young girls are faced with pressures of marrying just to be married, love, waiting to be married for sex, being taken care of financially, or financially being able to support oneself, continuing education, and having babies. The Binat family has certainly had their share of disappointments. After losing most of their wealth to family, they are adjusting as best they can. Two of the five daughters, Alys and Jena are working as teachers. Coincidentally, Jane Austin is discussed in class. Alys questions many of the reasons why a woman should marry. She is intelligent, and believes that education is important. When one of the wealthiest families sends invitation for a wedding, Mrs. Binat is ready for her daughters to find husbands. She would like them to “fish“ for husbands. Mrs. Binat just wants to see her daughters wed, no matter what. Jena meets “Bungles” a well established man, and her mother is waiting for a proposal for her. Bungles’ friend Valentine Darsee does not seem to impressed with the Binat family. Alys overhears Valentine discussing them. I enjoyed this witty and entertaining story and would recommend this to anyone who enjoys an alternative and modern day “Pride and Prejudice”. I received an ARC from NetGalley for my honest review.