Nothing but Patience by A.M. Blair

Nothing but Patience by A.M. Blair is a newly-published retelling of the classic Sense and Sensibility. I know the author through blogging and have been following and adoring her for years. You can find the author (her name is Amal!) @ The Misfortune of Knowing, where she writes about law, books, and gardening. Because I care about the author, my review is biased, but just as I wrote in my last review of her work, A Case of First Impression, I’m as honest as can be.

Nothing but Patience opens with Noor and Maryam Dashel consulting with a lawyer. When their uncle passed away, the sisters were to get an inheritance, including the house in which they live, but a second will has cropped up close to his death, one that cuts out the Dashel sisters and favors their half-brother. Even the house in which the sisters live will be taken from them unless they sue their half-brother and his wife, but the lawyer warns: are they willing to change their entire family dynamic, perhaps be cut off from their nephews, if they sue for a house and money? I don’t know much about U.S. law except we sure like to threaten to sue each other a lot, and I’ve never heard of it ending well.

The novel covers the thirty days until which the Dashel sisters must decide if they will sue and suggest their sister-in-law forced their dying uncle to agree to a new will. Already, the sisters are grieving. Their father has recently passed away, and their mother returned to her home in Sri Lanka with their younger sister. Now, they face eviction as their sister-in-law, Frannie, sweeps into their home, “cleaning it out” while they still live there in order to prepare to put it on the market. The extra sting is Frannie’s family is rich.

Now, this wouldn’t be a Jane Austen retelling if there weren’t some fortuitous romance, and it comes in the form of Edward, who appears smitten with Noor. But wouldn’t you know it, he’s fractious Frannie’s brother. In the process of moving out of their beloved family home, Noor tells Edward about her dream to plant a garden to honor her father. Even though she won’t be living there anymore, she gets started, and Edward delivers plants to contribute. How would Edward feel if he knew Noor was thinking of taking his sister to court?

The characters in Nothing but Patience are lovely and consistent. Even the hateful people are humanized fairly under Blair’s careful hand. I especially loved interactions between Noor and Maryam and their newfound Uncle Ahmed, also from Sri Lanka, and his husband, Jack. After the sisters’ mother connects them with this uncle whom they’ve never met, he rents them a cottage just off of his own home for free if they agree to be his fond family. Oh, do Uncle Ahmed and Uncle Jack love throwing large parties, including American food to appease their guests:

“You like meat, right? And mayonnaise? You Americans put a lot of mayonnaise in your food. It’s not my cup of tea, but I manage to eat it once a year.”

I love that Uncle Ahmed asks if she eats mayo much like other people ask if you eat gluten or enjoy spicy food. His personality is delightful, and I appreciated two loving figures in the story who support their family unconditionally, especially as a counterexample to the half-brother and his brood. Knowing their uncles will support them makes it harder for the Dashel sisters to tell their lawyer to proceed with their case, especially when their relationship with their nephews could be at stake.

The characters remain consistent, which isn’t to say they don’t grow, but they’re never out of character. Noor and Maryam are both good women but are very different. Noor stays logical yet artsy, emotional but strong. Maryam reads younger than Noor, always sleeping until noon and disappearing with her new boyfriend, but her more passionate personality stays within some bounds that demonstrate what her parents were like and her values. No man is “tamed,” no woman is “caught” when it comes to the romantic plot lines, making them enjoyable to read because each character develops naturally in each scene.

While reading Nothing but Patience, I felt a sense of security. Even though there are people doing bad deeds, the novel avoids sexism, ableism, homophobia, and most xenophobia (Noor notes that her bags are always searched when she flies or rides a train). You may argue that it’s unrealistic to populate a book with a decent narrator whose very essence is equity, and plenty of characters who manage to avoid off-color jokes, lascivious stares, and patronizing women, but I read as if I were hanging out with the kind of person I want to be around and experienced an ease in my heart.

You can purchase Blair’s newest novel on Amazon Kindle.

27 comments

  1. As a Jane Austenite I had my fingers crossed that your freind (that’s an Austen in-joke) AMB would not commit too many outrages on what is an often funny YA story. But she seems to have done a good job in sympathy with the original. I would like to know how (or if) she attempted the scene where the sister in law talks the half-brother down by degrees from his original intention to do the right thing by his sisters. But I guess, to discover that I should buy the book.

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    • Definitely! Amal does not charge much for her books, either, which suggests to me she enjoys writing and readership rather than big dreams of being the next Andy Weir.

      Amal was also saying on Twitter about a week or so ago that a reader was rather unkind about the way Amal portrays Sri Lankan-Americans, which was not something I would have judged, given that the author herself is Sri Lankan-American.

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    • I think you would like this novel, Laila. There’s good tension, but it’s also not the kind of novel that would set your nerves into hyper-stress mode. It was a good choice to feel entertained and happy! I’m also never above a mayo joke, lol.

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  2. Thank you for reviewing my book! I am so glad you enjoyed Uncle Ahmed, who is a combination of Jane Austen’s Sir John Middleton and my own relatives. The way he drinks his tea, his food preferences, the way he speaks, the way he drives, and so much more are all based on members of my family. I enjoyed weaving my Sri Lankan-American culture into this book, but as you learned on Twitter, there are some readers who didn’t understand or appreciate it. That surprised me, but maybe it shouldn’t have. There are a number of successful Jane Austen retellings that feature characters from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, when looking at their reviews, it seems like some readers would have given those books higher ratings had the characters been white (for traditionally published books with lots of ratings, the good news is that reviews from open-minded people usually outweigh the others). No book will be an ideal read for everyone, but the cultural background of the characters shouldn’t be the problem. With my book, when I saw that issue come up, I worried that maybe I hadn’t explained my culture clearly enough, but your review puts my mind at ease. Thank you again!

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    • Maybe this is my ignorance speaking, but I can’t even imagine why someone would have a problem with switching cultures in a retelling. If anything, I like comparing how different cultures react to the same situation. I will admit that there are a number of books set in India that I struggle with because there is always a parent or parents who are so mean and judgmental….I’m pretty sure I’m either just reading the wrong books or don’t understand parent-adult child relationships in India. For instance, I tried to read Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal and could not STAND how vile the mother was to her daughter, and that mother seems like the same mother I’ve read in a number of Indian novels. I’m not sure what to make of my experiences.

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  3. I take it this is a present-day retelling? It really sounds like it maps onto Sense and Sensibility well, and adds some interesting and updated commentary to the themes and character dynamics. Sense and Sensibility is perhaps my least favorite Austen novel, but I really like the idea of the Dashel sisters deciding whether to sue; in the original, of course, that wasn’t an avenue open to the sisters because a man with his name in a will is always going to win over a couple of unmarried women. Seeing that they have a chance to choose differently here sounds like a satisfying upgrade!

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  4. I’m not normally keen on retellings but I do need to get this, especially to support a blogiverse sister. I love reading books set elsewhere from my own culture and learning about other people’s milieus and other lives, and if people dislike that they need to take a long, hard look at themselves.

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  5. This sounds lovely. And I like your point at the end that a novel can be populated with decent characters because isn’t that who we want to surround ourselves with in real life?

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    • Yes! I read something on Twitter recently about keeping children safe, to which one person responded that the world is not safe. Another person responded to that comment that the correct response is not to throw one’s hands in the air and decide things are bad and that’s that. Our responsibility is to change things and make them safer. I feel like Amal’s writing captures that same spirit: write the people we want to see in the world.

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  6. I like the idea of translating the will shenigans from the original into an argument about a lawsuit in present day – that seems like a clever adaptation to me! I had been meaning to pick this up anyway, and your review reminded me to do so. I love books about kind and decent people, so that is definitely a selling point for me.

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    • I love how much my readers are commenting on the original book, because I have not read it! I think a situation like challenging a will or suing family members creates some great tension about what it means to compromise as a family. Lose your house and keep in contact with your nephews? Or keep your home and lose your family.

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      • Oh, Sense and Sensibility is great. I think Elinor Dashwood is Austen’s least irritating heroine, and it’s easily the funniest of her novels (also there are probably meaningful literary reasons why it’s good, but those are my main two points). My favourite is Persuasion but I do recommend the original Sense and Sensibility as well!

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        • LOL! Your comment made me for real laugh out loud. Literary reasons. Pffffft. Your reasons are better. Now I’m thinking may I will read the original if it’s not 999999 pages long.

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  7. I love that this book gave you a sense of comfort, in fact, I sort of felt that way reading your review. It reminds me a bit of Schitt’s Creek-it’s a Canadian show, have you watched it? It’s set in a world where homophobia doesn’t really exist. It doesn’t ignore it necessarily, it just imagines a world where it’s not there, which is just so lovely. Characters can be openly gay, and it’s not a deal, it just is. Anyway, I could be wrong drawing parallels between this book and that show, but you should check it out!

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    • I’ve heard of Schitt’s Creek because in the U.S. they frequently call it S’s Creek because of how Schitt sounds. Not that reporters and radio DJs and whatnot are prudes, but they don’t want to deal with the FCC over a misheard word. Even when they had a clue on Jeopardy! and someone answered Schitt’s Creek, the show people spelled it out on the screen just in case.

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  8. How interesting Melanie. I’m not a big reader of retellings but It sounds like Blair has done a good job.

    I like your ending comment. Aren’t these the sorts of people many of us surround ourselves with? So I wouldn’t argue that it’s unrealistic. We – like the Dashwoods, Dashels – might surround ourselves with decent people, but like them, we, no matter how hard we try, can’t keep the others completely out! that’s realistic too!

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