Rating: 2.5 Stars
I don’t like giving a low rating to books by Pakistani authors, and if they are female Pakistani authors, then I’d rather skip reviewing the book than give it a bad rating. I wanted to do the same with this book, but despite my low rating, there are some things here that I found charming and cute. If it had been a book of romantic short stories with nothing to do with a famous woman author, I might have been happier about it.
Austenistan is a collection of short love stories inspired by Jane Austen’s works, mainly Pride And Prejudice. I have to confess that I am not a big Jane Austen fan, except that Pride And Prejudice was, is and always will be, my most favourite love story ever. It is one book that I love unconditionally, without any thoughts about its merits or demerits. So, it is understandable that I would regard everything inspired by it with suspicion.
On their own, most of the stories are charming. I love romantic stories and enjoyed reading Emaan Ever After and On The Verge. The Fabulous Banker Boys was also cute. . The Autumn Ball was quite sad and poignant, but the rest of the stories didn’t do much for me. Only The Deepest Love was too bland for me, and The Mughal Empire a weak attempt to redeem Ms. Bingley. The story that I really didn’t like, was Begum Saira Returns. It was a complete misfit in the collection, belonging more in a Mills & Boon book than in an anthology inspired by Jane Austen!
Now, I will come to the reason why I didn’t rate the book highly. I don’t like how all the stories promote Pakistani people as alcohol-drinking, promiscuous, party goers, mad about the latest international brands. All the stories, in trying to avoid the stereotype of burqa-clad, topi-wearing Pakistanis seen in the western media, have fallen into the trap of making Pakistan seem like any western country. That is not the truth. Pakistan has a distinctive culture, that is different from the rest of the world, but that is also not as religious as the West likes to portray it.
I know I will get the argument that I have no idea but all this does happen in Pakistan, and I know it does, but this is only true for a particular social class which is not even 10% of the total population of this country. To make it out as if this is prevalent all over the place is just sad, and untrue.
This brings me to why I found it ridiculous to relate all these stories to Jane Austen. While the main ideas might be taken from some famous books written by Austen, the fact is that Austen mainly wrote about the Middle Class and their struggles to remain relevant in the society. She wrote about strong women making mistakes and learning from them. She wrote about love found in unexpected places, not just with rich aristocrats. She wrote about girls with more on their minds than just men and marriage. There is so much to take away from Jane Austen, and yet, what I find in this book is a fixation with Pride And Prejudice, and how a rich man can solve all of life’s problems. So not cool.
I find myself thinking that all these stories could have been set in the real Pakistani Middle Class and still be as charming, and maybe much more real. I know our writers can do a much better job than this. I would love to read love stories that are set in a Pakistan where the majority of Pakistanis live. Are you listening to me, Pakistani authors?