10 Questions with Soniah Kamal

Soniah Kamal’s book is so good, you will just not want to put it down. It provides an insight into the culture and life in Pakistan (which bares many similarities with life in India). The mix of English and Punjabi make it a fun read. The story surrounds the life of the Binats, particularly Mrs Binat who is forever worried about Log Kya Kahenge . The book is well written and you absolutely fall in love with the characters as you go along. It also superbly highlights the issues surrounding gender inequality in Pakistan

Why did you decide to base the book in 2000 rather than present day? 

Unmarriageable is a parallel retelling meaning it includes all the plot points and every single character from Pride and Prejudice. My aim was to reorient and remap the colonial legacy of English in the Subcontinent but I wanted to keep as close to the spirit of Austen’s classic as possible, therefore since she called it her ‘light bright and sparking novel’, I mirror that spirit and tone too. As such, choosing to set the novel in 2000-2001 was a very deliberate decision. Austen is often critiqued for not bringing world concerns into her novels. However it’s not as if she eschewed them, after all the militia is in Meryton and Mr. Wickam wears a soldier’s uniform, but rather instead of politics of war she was interested in the politics of society. As we know in 2001, a major world event occurred and one of my sections ends in August 2001. Some readers may now expect the world event to show up but I wanted to mirror Austen’s concerns as well as give readers a window into that critique.

Why did you decide on two different covers?

My U.K. and Commonwealth cover is red and my U.S. cover is blue and my large print cover is white. I’ve been very lucky because each one is absolutely beautiful. In fact, readers say that they end up buying because they can’t decide between them! The cover designers usually decide these things, however the U.S. asked for my input and I said “peacocks as a nod to the famous Hugh Thompson cover, and no reds or oranges.’ After seeing the UK cover, I learned not to have any color preferences!

How do you deal with writer’s block?

In my case it’s not really block but laziness. Writing well is extremely hard and I’d much rather be reading a novel than writing one. 

What was your first Job?

Teaching English Literature to the eighth grade at my own high school—surreal.

Favourite Book of 2019?

So far Nicole Dennis Benn’s Here Comes the Sun, set in Jamaica and about the tourism industry and the prostitution industry.  And my fellow Pride and Prejudice sisters’ novels: Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jallaludin and Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev.

Worst advice you have ever received?

Being an actress would mean ruination of me and entire family.

And don’t be angry. I believe anger channeled in a healthy fashion is the best fuel to change the world and your own life.

One thing you love and dislike about Pakistan?

Love the food. Not the traffic.

Do you listen to podcasts, if yes what’s your favourite?

I really enjoy Krista Tippett’s On Being which caters to living a more spiritual and kind life.

9. What do you think Pakistan/India needs to improve Gender Equality 

Respect. Unmarriageable is about gender equality. In a world where women can now earn a comparable income to man and even out earn where does that leave traditional roles? In Austen’s time women literally had no choice but to marry for financial security but though that is no longer the case in contemporary Pakistan or in India, the notion of ‘security’ remains and Unmarriageable digs deep into this.

10. Advice for our aspiring writers on getting published

Learn how to be to the best storyteller possible and finding an agent who understands your work rather than how much money you will make them per se.  

To find out more about Soniah via her website and through social media: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.