Austenistan is a compilation of seven short stories that, in true Jane Austen fashion, comment on the nature of society and revolve around the lives of modern women. Based in different cities of Pakistan, these stories are as immersed in Pakistani culture as they are tweaked to accommodate the whims of 21st century folks.
I had such great expectations of this book, particularly because it was inspired by Jane Austen’s writings with the promise to feature Pakistani culture. Unfortunately, I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped. Now, the writing style (of the different writers) is colloquial and easy to get accustomed to, which was an interesting change from Austen’s very ornate and wordy style. Most of the stories had some element of a wedding celebration or a party, the vibes of which were aptly conveyed through the use of imageries and cultural references. You’ll also find empowered women refusing to bow down to society’s ridiculous expectations. Clichés like insta-love, brooding men and marriage-fixing-aunties notwithstanding, I really liked reading about how different female protagonists reacted in different circumstances.
My problem was with certain characters and value systems that overshadowed even the simplest of stories. In Begum Saira Returns, Saira’s plight is heartrending! She is bullied by society for being open-minded. BUT THEN, the turn of events at the end is bewildering. How is it okay to let go of your morals, especially when doing so could hurt a loved one? Many of the stories emphasize superficial standards, when it comes to arranging a marriage or fixing a date, by placing those with a better outward appearance, money and stature at a pedestal. In Austen’s writings, these aspects could be justified because the time was such. But the same is not an overarching truth of today. Certain parts of the stories do get predictable after a point, but because they’re cutesy romances it’s not really bothersome. My favourite has to be The Autumn Ball by Gayathri Warnsuriya. The disconnect between a couple is heartbreakingly sketched in that story. All in all, the book had it’s good and bad aspects. I enjoyed reading most of the stories. It’s just a couple of them that irked me.
Ratings – 3 out of 5 stars
What do you get out of it? A few entertaining stories which attempt to reflect prevalent ideals about marriage, womanhood and society.
Thank you Bloomsbury India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for a review.