Kamal’s debut, Unmarriageable (Ballantine, Jan.), is a retelling of Pride & Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan.
What inspired you to revisit Austen’s Pride & Prejudice?
Growing up in Pakistan, I attended English-medium schools. I was a literature student, so I grew up reading all the British classics. Austen was a particular favorite, even though she set her work 200 years ago and, thankfully, life has changed a lot for women, even in Pakistan. Nevertheless, morality-wise, it still very much mirrors Austen’s time. I thought it would be comforting to read Austen’s work, because she talks about a society where the morality very much mirrors the one I was under when I was growing up. So it was double. It was my love for Pride & Prejudice but also a retelling set in my own culture as a comfort read for myself, honestly.
What do you want readers to take from reading Unmarriageable?
I want readers, no matter which culture they’ve grown up in, to realize that we may seem very different and people may want to make us look at our differences, but we really—in our emotions, our desires, our hearts—we all really want to live a normal life where we are happy with the partners we choose, where we respect each other, where we can be friends with people from across classes and boundaries. I just would love readers to see the similarities within all of us rather than the differences. And to, of course, see Pakistan as just another place where they can come visit.
In the book, the main character, Alys, is an advocate for the education of girls beyond becoming mothers and wives. Is that important to you, as well?
Absolutely. I’m the mother of three. I’ve always wanted to be a mom, and I’m very grateful that I have been able to. On the other hand, that’s not one identity, and definitely not one sole identity to choose to be. Education allows you to see that. When you’re educated, when you’re able to see yourself as a different person and not just a mother, you’re able to have an identity of which being a mother is only a part and not everything.
Would you consider Unmarriageable a feminist tale?
I think every tale is a feminist tale, when it comes down to it. I think Jane Austen was very much a feminist writer. If you look at her heroines from Elizabeth to Fanny Price, they all say no to a proposal at some point. They say no. They don’t make easy decisions. So yeah, every tale is a
feminist tale. I mean, women want to make their own choices in life, whatever they may be. It comes down to equality, of course, when it comes to being paid equally or having the same rights, but it also means being able to make your own choices.