It’s been over 200 years since the death of Jane Austen, and it’s a testament to her storytelling that variations on Pride and Prejudice continue to charm readers over and over again. But it’s also a testament to the authors of these latest releases that their takes on the classic feel current, relevant and new.
Uzma Jalaluddin’s debut novel, Ayesha at Last, challenges expectations right from the start by moving Austen’s story from the much-romanticized drawing rooms of Regency England into a community of Muslim immigrants in Canada. As you might imagine, there’s (unfortunately) plenty of prejudice to spare, particularly towards Khalid Mirza, a computer programmer in Toronto whose devout Muslim faith and strict adherence to tradition make him an immediate target. But he’s not above a little hasty judgment himself, leading to instant conflict with Ayesha Shamsi when he meets her at an open-mic poetry event. Something about Ayesha moves Khalid, but this also disturbs him, since he’s been raised to believe that love is meant to come after marriage—a marriage that must be arranged by his family and his bride’s. Jalaluddin’s modern story blends shockingly well with the original plot of Pride and Prejudice. Khalid and Ayesha’s close-knit Indian-Canadian community bears a striking resemblance to Regency-era British society, with its sharply defined ranks, rapid-fire gossip, emphasis on parents arranging matches and potential for a scandal to sink the matrimonial fortunes of an entire family. Would a modern Elizabeth Bennet, living in England, worry that her sister’s elopement would cast a stain on the family? Nope. But a modern Ayesha Shamsi would.
The blistering dynamic between Darcy and Elizabeth has been captured in many different forms over the years, but in Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, Sonali Dev absolutely nails it to the wall. Her take on Austen borrows its structure from the original but weaves in engrossing new plot threads and dynamic emotional twists. Trisha Raje is a renowned neurosurgeon, the descendant of actual Indian royalty and the sister of the leading candidate for governor of California, so perhaps she has some justification if she is, indeed, proud. (Spoiler: She is.) But her behavior makes it all too easy for DJ Caine—an accomplished chef who has used his skills and reputation to rise above a background of poverty and racism—to willfully misunderstand her. (Spoiler: He does.) However, DJ also happens to need Trisha, since she’s the only surgeon who can successfully extract the brain tumor that’s killing his sister. Not to mention that he can’t pay the medical bills without the catering contract he hopes to secure from Trisha’s fabulously wealthy, influential family. Dev pushes the couple together in an exquisitely agonizing dance of one step forward, two steps back as DJ’s wounded pride and Trisha’s social awkwardness turn every conversation into a worst-case scenario. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is surprising and unexpected, delivering unapologetic lessons about what prejudice looks like today. From police discrimination opening Trisha’s eyes to her own privilege to a late-in-the-story confession darkly echoing the #MeToo movement, Dev transforms a 200-year-old tale into a searing, clear-eyed portrait of our current reality.