A modern-day retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this time set in Pakistan.
Why so many writers choose to retell Pride and Prejudice is a question that will never be answered. You can read versions of the novel in which the characters are gay, Amish, or battling zombies, though not, fortunately, all of the above. Kamal’s (An Isolated Incident, 2014) latest effort locates the familiar story in Pakistan in 2001. Here, the Bennets are the Binats, with sisters Elizabeth, Jane, Kitty, Mary, and Lydia becoming Alysba, Jena, Qitty, Mari, and Lady, respectively. Mr. Darcy appears as—wait for it—Mr. Darsee. And so on. Kamal sticks closely to the original plot, so there aren’t any surprises there. Alysba Binat, like her predecessor, is smart, headstrong, and a little too quick to judge. Likewise, her mother is a little too eager for her daughters to marry; her father a little too retiring; etc. All these similarities, unfortunately, draw attention to the gap between Austen’s writing and Kamal’s. Kamal can be heavy-footed where Austen was light, plodding where Austen was quicksilver. Kamal’s dialogue sometimes sounds more like something from a doctoral thesis than like something someone might actually say. At one point, Darsee tells Alysba, “That book made me believe I could have a Pakistani identity inclusive of an English-speaking tongue. We’ve been forced to seek ourselves in the literature of others for too long.” She responds, “But reading widely can lead to an appreciation of the universalities across cultures.” But as those lines also reveal, Kamal’s version of the classic novel highlights issues of colonialism, race, and Pakistani identity. Her insights are pointed and smart. Flaws aside, Kamal’s novel is a charming update to the original. Put your feet up and enjoy it.
Kamal’s version has its flaws, but overall it’s a delicious book, something to sink your teeth into.