It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is loved around the world. With "Unmarriageable," author Soniah Kamal brings Austen's beloved classic "Pride and Prejudice" to modern Pakistan. The five Binat sisters are courted by Bungles, Wickhaam and Darsee as they navigate the narrow path of social expectations and personal ambitions.
Kamal herself grew up in a close-knit community where friends were always at one another’s houses and cousins were like siblings. Her grandparents lived with the family. There was always a sense of delightful chaos and when she read "Pride and Prejudice" at 16, she knew she wanted to write a retelling. “It was a dream to write this novel. I’m meshing part of my history and giving back a classic.”
The author will discuss her work at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at the Baptist Church Fellowship Hall.
Kamal studied in England and Saudi Arabia before attended college in Maryland. “It was the mid-1980s in Saudi Arabia and I went to a school that was basically for diplomat’s children, from all different cultures,” she recalls. “Our library was life changing. People would go home for a break and bring back books from everywhere, like 'Baba Yaga' comics from Russia.”
She majored in great books in college and her knowledge of literature, philosophy and history is evident. “I wanted to show the postcolonial aspect of literature. Jane Austen is a very modern writer and she’s brilliant. I’m convinced she would be a psychiatrist today.”
It’s Austen’s incisiveness that makes her stories so relevant, even as far away as modern Pakistan. “She captures that which is universal. That we can’t group people together. That class consciousness is still very real. That women are still expected to marry and have kids.
“I grew up with dichotomies myself,"Kamal said. "I was taught the importance of an education and was encouraged to pursue it. I was allowed to go to college in America by myself. At the same time, I wasn’t allowed to work towards becoming a dancer and actress. [chuckles] I can still dance though. I’m the first one on the dance floor at a wedding. In that way, I identify with Lady Binat.” But she sees herself in each of the sisters. “I’m not nearly as ‘good’ as Jena. I talk back like Alys. Qitty hears what I heard.”
The way people make assumptions based on their prejudices hasn’t changed. “I also wanted to explore how the perception you have of yourself affects the way others see you. People have a stereotype, an idea in their minds, but this is everyday life. This is the Pakistan I know.”