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If you’ve been around trishajennreads for a while, you’ll know how much I love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and just about any retelling of Elizabeth and Darcy and their families. And this past year has been amazing for Pride and Prejudice retellings.
While I’ve written about P&P retellings before, today I want to focus on how the story gets amazing new life when an author transfers it into a new cultural setting (i.e. not Euro-centric).
The original Pride and Prejudice is set in the Regency period of England. The author and cast are primarily white Europeans. You can’t get upset at Jane Austen for not including more diversity in her book; she was writing a social commentary on the society in which she lived and the types of people she saw most often. But, when contemporary authors take this novel’s premise and structure and apply it to their own society and infuse it with their culture, the story is recreated in such a way that it is both familiar and new. It is incredible to see how the story becomes richer and how the universal truths become even more obvious when the story is transferred to contemporary communities of colour.
This diversity is so, so needed in books today. We need to read about other cultures. We need to read about people with skin that is a different colour than our own. We need to read about people who have lived vastly different experiences than our own. We need to read about people who are in different social categories, different economic brackets, and different neighbourhoods than our own. And we need to read stories not just about these people who are different from us, but read stories by these people who are different than us. That’s what Jane Austen would have wanted.
Jane Austen’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, was a social commentary on the ridiculous social categories and limitations of her society. It was a way for her to comment on the things in her world that she didn’t think were quite right.
These diverse retellings of Pride and Prejudice do the same thing. They are their authors’ ways of commenting on the things in contemporary society that aren’t quite right, and they’re doing so from their own unique perspective.
Four Diverse Retellings of Pride and Prejudice
Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal
Set in the early 2000s in Pakistan, Unmarriageable feels both true to the original text and completely different. The richness and colour of Pakistan’s culture permeates the entire novel. Alys Binat and her older sister Jena teach at a local school after their family met with a scandal that cost them their funds and social standing. When Fahad “Bungles” Bingla and his friend Valentine Darsee come to town for a huge local wedding, the familiar story kicks off with Mrs. Binat working frantically to secure a proposal to Jena from Bungles.
Unmarrigable may be my favourite retelling yet. It is witty and sardonic, funny and sweet.
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jallaludin
Ayesha At Last set in a Muslim community in Toronto. It follows Ayesha Shamsi, a progressive young Muslim woman who wants to be a poet but is instead working as a teacher to pay back a debt to her wealthy uncle. While her younger cousin Hafsa turns down marriage proposal after marriage proposal, Ayesha is determined to live her dream and not be forced into an arranged marriage. But when she meets conservative and judgemental Khalid and is has to work with him on a charity project for the mosque, she is forced to come to terms with her own prejudice…and attraction.
This book is brilliant. It doesn’t follow the original story exactly, but uses the ideas and scenes to deliver a fascinating and unputdownable story.
Pride by Ibi Zoboi
Ibi Zoboi’s Pride stars an Afro-Latino family in a Brooklyn neighbourhood that is slowly becoming unrecognizable because of gentrification. Zuri Benitez is proud and loud and completely not interested in the rich Darcy family that just moved in across the street. Her sisters, however, are all very interested in the two teenage sons. One son is charming, the other is arrogant. But circumstances change and Zuri is forced to think some things through and figure out what’s next for her in life.
Two chapters in, and this book was a five-star read for me. It is a fresh take on the original story and tackles ideas of class and gentrification and identity in a believable and smart way.
Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors is a gender-swapped retelling featuring Indian-Americans. Dr. Trisha Raje may be a celebrated neurosurgeon, but to her immigrant family, she’s still a failure for not following the rules they set out. DJ Caine is a chef on track to become a star, but he comes from a not-so-great background. DJ and Trisha immediately clash, but unfortunate circumstances keep their paths crossing.
I’m so excited for this one! I’ve never read a gender-swapped P&P before. My library hold JUST came in and I’m picking this book up tomorrow. I’m certain I will fly through it. I’ll update this post as soon as I’ve read it.