I admit it: I’m a sucker for Pride and Prejudice (Austen’s original and all filmed versions, even if a scene or two is thrown in for, um, effect), and my wildest dreams included a novel like Unmarriageable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan by Sonial Kamal. I’ve been around South Asian communities for two decades, I’ve written for an Indian magazine for nearly as long, and I love the spectacle and unabashedly larger-than-life qualities of Hindi films. So, when I learned that someone saw how perfectly Austen’s story could be translated into the Pakistani culture without losing integrity or fidelity and flourishing brilliantly while retaining the color, energy, and particulars of life in 2000, there was only one thing to do: Get my hands on that book.
The Binat Family – Barkat (Bark) and Pinkie and their five daughters, Jenazba, Alysba, Marizba, Qittyara, and Lady – under the veil of a certain scandal at the hands of Bark’s brother, had been relegated to a boondocky family home in the town of Dilipabad (named for the famous Hindi film actor, Dilip Kumar). There, while Bark putters in his garden, Jena and Alys teach school as a means toward family income. The two eldest daughters, despite their contributions to the welfare of the family and to the community, are embarrassments to their histrionic (albeit rather typical in South Asian literary and cinematic offerings) mother, who wails and moans about their age and perpetual state of singlehood. Alys, however, is adamant that no woman needs marriage or a man, and she believes her purpose is to educate her students about self-sufficiency before they’re whisked off on the wedding train and saddled with motherhood.
When an invitation to a fabulous wedding arrives, Pinkie sees it as an opportunity to strut her unmarried offspring, hoping that someone (well-off, of course) will scoop them up in a heartbeat and take them to be their happily-ever-after partners. Optimism looms brightly in the case of Jena, who meets the dashing-but-shy Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, a young man pressed tightly under his sisters’ judgemental thumbs. Concurrently, Alys’s sensibilities are rubbed rough and raw by a snit of a dandy named Valentine “Val” Darsee, who views the Binat family as less than worth his time.
From there the story unfolds cleverly and beautifully, retaining the verve of Austen’s Bennet Family and the lessons learned over the course of the tale. Kamal’s writing is crisp, clean, and filled with good humor, and even if a reader has never seen a Hindi film (this novel would make an extraordinary mini-series!), the work stands on its own as an enjoyable romp through manners, class, and sisterhood. When looking for something to read that falls into the categories of delightful, amusing, clever, fun, enjoyable, or highly readable, this is the book you’ll want.