On January 24, Jane Austen & Company hosted the penultimate event of its Fall 2023-Winter 2024 Many Flavors of Austen series, inviting bestselling author Uzma Jalaluddin to engage in a lively discussion on her Austen-adjacent novels Ayesha at Last (2019) and Much Ado About Nada (2023). Uzma is a Jane Austen Summer Program veteran, having presented at JASP’s annual conference in 2019. Her Austen-inspired books offer fresh perspectives on Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, transporting familiar characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Anne Elliot into modern suburban Muslim-Canadian communities.
Uzma Jalaluddin’s first encounter with Jane Austen occurred when she was about fourteen or fifteen years old, as so many of ours do. Although she admits somewhat sheepishly that she does not remember whether her inaugural Austen novel was Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, she knew with certainty from the first turn of the page that Austen would become “a life-long obsession.”
“It’s this theory that I have,” says Uzma, “that the books you read when you’re young, they really stay with you. The ones that you love, the ones that touch your heart, they just stay with you for the rest of your life.” On a personal level, all three of the books Uzma has authored on her own have been at least partially inspired by Austen’s work. Ayesha at Last takes its cues from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and Much Ado About Nada adapts Persuasion, our favorite second-chance romance. Even her second novel Hana Khan Carries On, which actually draws inspiration from the 1998 rom-com You’ve Got Mail, could easily be an Austen-adjacent title with its witty, lovable characters and charming romance.
Funny enough, Uzma did not realize Ayesha at Last was a Pride and Prejudice retelling until a friend pointed out their similarities. Between her full-time job as a high school teacher, as well as the equally full-time job of raising two children with her husband, it took Uzma eight years and many drafts to finish writing her first novel. It wasn’t until she had finished her fourth or fifth draft of Ayesha at Last that her friend pointed out its Austenian roots. Just like that, the clouds parted, and the rest of the book fell into place. “How could I have missed the signs?” Uzma muses with a laugh. “Of course I was writing Darcy and Elizabeth!”
As for Much Ado About Nada, Uzma originally conceived it as a mashup of Austen’s Persuasion and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. However, when the manuscript draft didn’t seem to flow, Uzma decided to cut out the ties to Shakespeare and focus solely on recreating the epic love story between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Fortunately, she kept the Shakespeare-inspired title, which is a pun on the main character’s first name: Nada.
At its core, Uzma’s fiction explores the challenges of searching for identity and belonging within small, close-knit Muslim-Canadian communities mirroring those of her own lived experience as a visibly Muslim woman in Toronto. Comparable to Austen’s literary emphasis on the politics and social practices of small villages in the English countryside, Uzma’s fictional “glocalization,” or “localization within the global,” addresses global themes and practices, such as the practice of arranged marriages, within smaller neighborhoods and groups that feel personal to the writer and reader.
Looking forward, Uzma is currently working on her first mystery novel, inspired by her love of 1920s-30s detective fiction. If you’re hungry for more, watch a recording of Uzma’s livestream on YouTube or the Jane Austen & Co. website.
Uzma Jalaluddin is a critically acclaimed and bestselling novelist, playwright, and teacher. She writes nuanced and entertaining stories about Muslims, South Asians, and Canadians and is the author of Much Ado About Nada (2023), Three Holidays and a Wedding (2023), Hana Khan Carries On (2021), Ayesha at Last (2019), and her first play, The Rishta (2023). Ayesha at Last was a Goodreads Choice Award Finalist, Cosmopolitan UK Book of the Year, and Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of 2019. Hana Khan Carries On was recognized as a Best Romance Novel by the Washington Post and is currently in development for film by Amazon Studios and Mindy Kaling. Uzma is a former contributor to The Toronto Star and has written for The Atlantic. She lives near Toronto, Canada, with her husband and two sons, where she also teaches high school. Find more at uzmajalaluddin.com and follow Uzma on X (Twitter) @UzmaWrites or Instagram @UzmaJalaluddin.