Unmarriageable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan is a unique Jane Austen adaptation set in the early 2000s.

Whether you're an avid Jane Austen aficionado (renamed Jane Khala), or whether you preferred watching the many film versions or even the Gurinder Chadha one that featured Aishwarya Rai, this book is a must read.

Alys Binat, an English Literature teacher encourages her female students to aspire to more than what society expects of them. She is resolute - she will not marry.

This sumptuous book is so refreshingly relatable to young Asian women today.
From the second page we see school students questioning the protagonist, ‘How is it fair that girls are expected to wax everywhere but boys can be hairy as gorillas?’

Oh the ubiquitous double standards. 

Followed by, 'Girls don't want a moustache and a hairy back, but the issue is that women don't seem to have a choice.’

Et voila, the classic Pride and Prejudice has just been given a well needed desi adaptation.

The prejudices single women faced in the early 1800’s in Britain still remain prevalent today within some sections of society in Pakistan as Alys is repeatedly exposed to. 

A 30-year-old unmarried teacher who is encouraging her students to study rather than get married ‘might as well be a witch spreading anarchy.’
Alys finds herself battling social expectations at every stage, personally and professionally. 

When she tells her principal, ‘I want my girls to at least have a chance at being more than well trained dolls’ she is told, ‘We are here to groom these girls into the best of marriageable material.’

When she is not battling hurdles at work, she is in the firing line at home where her mother, Mrs Binat is coaching her daughters to snag rich eligible bachelors.
'The uglier and darker the Rich Men, all the better for you because they are actively hunting for fair and lovely girls to balance out their genes.'

As crass as her opinion may be, it is an approach that will resonate with many Asian women today.

Asian Image:

Author: Soniah Kamal

Mrs Binat’s unashamed desperation to get her daughters married off is ferociously funny, ‘My womb has produced these rare creatures: girls who are dainty but also tough. And their wombs will produce just as well.’

We all know an aunty who advises girls to ‘marry young and well’ and we are all familiar with Mrs Binat’s acerbic advice, 'please for my sake try to lose some weight before the wedding. No-one wants to marry a fat girl.'

The well-known themes from Pride and Prejudice are all present in this version, however, Kamal aptly includes contentious social issues in Pakistan and British Asian life, including dowry and polygamy.

The book is Soniah Kamal’s second novel. The story is told with wit and ingenuity and insightfully depicts the somewhat remarkable similarities between Regency England and the luscious culture of modern-day Pakistan. 

Unmarriageable depicts the perennial way that desi culture affects everyday life and is a visceral portrait of the subtler and more blatant inequalities Asian women are still subjected to. 

An apt example is when Alys is told, ‘No-one wants to marry an over educated girl in case she out earns her husband which will drive him to insecurity and subsequently divorcing her'.

Even if you haven’t read the original Pride and Prejudice or are unfamiliar with Jane Austen’s work, this book is a compelling story about marriage, class and sisterhood.

Unmarriageable: Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan by Soniah Kamal can be purchased here