Release Day Spotlight + Excerpt | Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin

Happy Publication Day to Uzma Jalaluddin’s new novel, Much Ado About Nada!!

This book is inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion and it has second-chance romance trope.

Uzma Jalaluddin

Published by: Berkley
Publication date: June 13, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance

A delightful new contemporary romance by Uzma Jalaluddin, author of Ayesha at Last.

Nada Syed is stuck. On the cusp of thirty, she’s still living at home with her brothers and parents in the Golden Crescent neighborhood of Toronto, resolutely ignoring her mother’s unsubtle pleas to get married already. And while Nada has a good job as an engineer, it’s a far cry from realizing her dreams for her tech baby, Ask Apa, the app that launched with a whimper instead of a bang because of the double-crossing of he-who-must-not-be-named. Something needs to change, but the past is holding on to Nada too tightly to let her move forward.

One thing Nada is excited about is her friend Haleema’s recent engagement. Haleema insists they meet, and what better opportunity than at the massive Muslim conference in downtown Toronto run by her fiancé Zayn’s family? And did Haleema mention Zayn’s handsome brother, Baz? What Haleema doesn’t know is that Nada and Baz have crossed paths many times before—from when Nada bullied Baz when he was a scrawny kid to the times they met accidentally-on-purpose at the campus library.

At the conference, secrets from the past come hurtling at Nada, complicating everything even further and bringing a moment of reckoning. Can Nada truly say goodbye to what once was, or should she hold tight to her dreams?

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Downstairs, Haleema and Narjis were enthusiastically discussing wedding details as Nada rejoined them. Haleema glanced approvingly at Nada’s outfit change.

Although Nada knew that Zayn’s family ran the largest Muslim convention in Canada, his role was a bit murky. Haleema had described him as the general manager and once as the CEO.

„Actually, Zayn is an artist,“ Haleema now confided to Narjis. A risky move, in Nada’s opinion-her mother didn’t approve of any profession she couldn’t find on the Aunty Pyramid of Eligible Careers: doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, or IT professional, in descending order of respectability.

„He paints?“ Narjis asked, smile fixed. „So good for men to have hobbies, nah? Otherwise, they are always hanging about.“

Nada hid her smile behind a sip of the cardamom-spiced chai her mother had left for her at the wrought-iron kitchen table.

„No, he’s the lead singer of The Companions,“ Haleema said proudly, but Narjis only looked blank. „They’re a famous Muslim band? Their first album, 99 Ways to Love, even got a write-up in the local paper, and their first tour a few years ago sold out.“

Privately, Nada wondered if this was true. She had done some light snooping after Haleema had announced her engagement, and while Zayn had a professional-looking website and enthusiastic fans on social media, she doubted the market for Muslim spiritual music in North America was large. Her mother, despite her prejudice against any arts-adjacent career, likely had it right: Zayn worked with his parents running the convention, and made mildly popular music on the side.

„We’re going to get stuck in traffic,“ Nada said, now anxious to get on the road. She was very aware that any conversation involving weddings and employed men would inevitably lead back to her lack of either. The other women ignored her. Haleema was busy snacking on samosas and Indian mithai arranged on her mother’s good plates.

„In any event, I am glad you have convinced Nada to attend the matrimonial speed-dating event,“ Narjis said now. „She has put off marriage for too long. She is the last single woman among her friends and she is almost thirty years old.“

„At which point I’ll be voted off the island,“ Nada added agreeably, and shot Haleema another glare. This was the first time she was hearing about her alleged participation in the matrimonial speed-dating event.

Narjis ignored her daughter. „There is a time and a place for everything, don’t you agree?“ she said to Haleema. „You can’t leave marriage too late. Otherwise, women grow set in their ways. The problem is that Nada is too picky.“

Haleema, ever the loyal friend, interjected. „Nada will marry when she’s ready, Aunty. She has excellent judgment and has never rushed into anything in her life. She has her engineering job, she has her family and friends, and for now, that’s enough. When the time is right, she will find her match. Inshallah.“

Nobody could argue against Inshallah-„God willing.“ Nada appreciated the subtle reminder that the future was out of their hands, but felt uneasy with the rest of her friend’s pronouncement. Was this how Haleema saw her? A woman with no agency. A staid, timid singleton too set in her ways to ever take a chance. Someone who waited for the vagaries of fate or an unseen hand to land the perfect partner in her lap, or preferably, in her father’s study, asking for his daughter’s hand.

Even more appalling was that her mother and best friend seemed to think that Nada was content. She must be a better actor than she thought. Then again, as the middle child in her family, her role was clear: make no waves, cause no fuss. So what if her heart was filled with regret?

Seeking a distraction from these uncomfortable reminders, she spotted a felt box on the counter and reached for it. „What’s this?“ Nada asked.

Her mother glanced at her father while he refilled his mug with chai from the simmering pot on the stove, before shrugging. „Some of my old gold jewelry. I’m taking it to be cleaned, to have it ready for when you marry. I will expect a full report after the convention.“

Nada carefully tipped the jewelry out into her hands. Looking over Nada’s shoulder, Haleema cooed at the treasure trove of bright yellow gold. It seemed polished enough to Nada, but she didn’t have her mother’s exacting eye.

This wasn’t a few odd items; it was the bulk of her mother’s collection, gifted and curated from her days as a young bride nearly forty years ago: floral jhumka ear bobs, heavy gold bangles studded with semiprecious stones, long chains with pendants, and several bridal sets with precious stones. This box contained tens of thousands of dollars‘ worth of twenty-two karat gold. Narjis seemed wistful as she watched her daughter handle the pieces, and on impulse removed a small chain familiar to Nada. The pendant had her name in cursive.

„I had this made when you were born. You never wear it anymore,“ Narjis said, before tenderly packing up the jewelry.

Nada fastened the necklace around her neck and rose, quietly thanking her mother for the chai. Even though she usually preferred coffee, she was convinced that her mother’s homemade chai had magical qualities. „I’ll keep an eye out for any suitable, single Muslim men at the convention,“ she promised, not really meaning it but wanting to make her mother happy.

Narjis nodded but didn’t say anything else. It was a veritable truce and a sign that it was time to go. They had collectively consumed a half-dozen samosas, three chum chum, and two gulab jamun, along with the cardamom chai. If they didn’t leave now, her mother would pull out the lunch menu. As much as Nada dreaded Deen&Dunya, delaying the inevitable was worse.

As if reading Nada’s mind, Haleema smiled prettily at Narjis and uttered the only sentence that could free them now: „Thank you so much for the delicious snacks and chai, Aunty. Did I mention that Zayn has a younger brother who is single? He will be at the convention too.“

*Excerpted from Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin Copyright © 2023 by Uzma Jalaluddin. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Uzma JalaluddinPhoto credit: Andrea Stenson Photography 2022

Uzma Jalaluddin is the author of Ayesha at Last and Hana Khan Carries On. A high school teacher, she is also a Toronto Star columnist and a contributor to The Atlantic. Her first novel was optioned for film by Pascal Pictures and her second novel was optioned for film by Kaling International and Amazon Studios. She lives in Toronto with her family.


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