I’m so excited to welcome Soniah Kamal to the Debutante Ball this week!
Her novel UNMARRIAGEABLE, has been described as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan. It’s been an Amazon Best Books Pick, a Library Reads Pick, and featured in People Magazine. NPR said it’s “a fun, page-turning romp and a thought-provoking look at the class-obsessed strata of Pakistani society,” Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review and said it was a “must-read for devout Austenites.”
Soniah Kamal is an award winning essayist and fiction writer. Her debut novel An Isolated Incident was a finalist for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, the KLF French Fiction Prize, and is an Amazon Rising Star pick. Soniah‘s TEDx talk is about regrets and second chances. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, Catapult, Buzzfeed, The Normal School, The Missing Slate, Literary Hub, and in critically acclaimed anthologies.
Read on for the interview!
Tell us about one thing that’s making you happy right now – big or small!
My hot cup of chai on this cold Georgia day. Also I recently gave my first in studio interview at On Second Thought, on the local NPR,– I was really scared I’d cough or flub or go completely blank.
Has anyone ever thought a character you wrote was based on them?
I think all of Pakistan will see someone or another they ‘recognize from real life’ in Unmarriageable. But then I see Austen’s characters everywhere too. Also in Unmarriageable I’ve used a lot of family’s names as namesakes as Austen did in her work and this was further nod on my part to write as best a parallel retelling as I could– I’ve emphatically assured my family though that fiction is not fact.
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
Me? Quirks? Never!!!! However please do ask my husband this question!
What surprised you most about having Unmarriageable out there in the world? Reader reactions, family reactions, your own reaction?
This was my dream novel to write and of course you hope that it will resonate with at least one reader, as such the response Unmarriageable is getting is flooring me. Lauren Ann Nattress, the editor of the Jane Austen website, Austenprose, said in her review that “Unmarriageable is the modern Pride and Prejudice retelling of my dreams.” She is a Janeite meaning a person who knows their Austen inside and out and reads retellings, continutions, variations etc. with a very critical eye. I’m going to treasure this for ever as I will reader reactions like the following from a Pakistani “I Just finished– ugly cried the happiest of tears. Unmarriageable is the book I’ve been looking for on every library and bookstore shelf all my life.” I ugly cried after reading this. I still am.
And last but not least: what’s your next big thing? It can be a new book, new project, new car, new job etc.
My first novel An Isolated Incident was published in India by a small press and there were no interviews, reading, appearances at bookstores, classroom, lit fests, nothing. So I’m used to a novel’s publication being the quietest thing in the world– navigating all of this joyous noise with Unmarriageable is new and it’s very nice 🙂
A scandal and vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.
When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal—and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.
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