Contemporary Muslim Writing with Huda Al-Marashi, moderated by Krista Bremer, UpStage Cabaret, Triad Stage, Saturday, 9:30 a.m.; The Novel Has Many Characters with Laurel Davis Huber, Etaf Rum, moderated by Michelle Young-Stone, Greensboro History Museum, Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Author Soniah Kamal is obsessed with Jane Austen. The Pakistani-American writer first read Pride and Prejudice when she was 16.
“It is most quintessentially a Pakistani book,” she says. “The culture is still very focused on marriage.”
Her second novel, Unmarriageable, which debuted in January, is a parallel retelling of Austen’s most famous work.
“It hits all of Pride and Prejudice’s plot points,” Kamal says. “I decided to take a book I love so much and reorient it and set it in a post-colonial country.”
Kamal was born in Pakistan and spent her childhood growing up in the country, as well as in England and Saudi Arabia. These days, she lives in Georgia with her kids. She says that growing up, she read books from all over the world and often reimagined the stories in the Pakistani culture she grew up in.
“My desire to read stories that I loved in a Pakistani context was strong enough for me to want to do it,” she says.
For her, there are parallels between Austen’s original text and its background, and the context of Unmarriageable that made the retelling make sense.
While modern Pakistan is a much more secular country than the one Pride and Prejudice is set in — women can drive, be doctors or even heads of state — the emphasis on marriage and traditional gender roles for women in the home is much the same. Still, Kamal wanted to capture the nuances and complexities of her culture and bring them to light in her book.
“It’s not so much in the choices available for women, but in the choices that Austen makes to peel away the hypocrisies in the culture,” Kamal says. “She has a piercing eye on human nature. An eye for foolishness. For me, it’s her satire.”
Find the full 2019 GSO Bound schedule here.