Pride is an ambitious retelling of a beloved classic that doesn’t quite work


The idea behind Pride – Ibi Zoboi’s Pride and Prejudice reimagining with diverse characters and a multicultural feel – is an important one, but the novel doesn’t quite pull it all together.

Pride is one of those books you want to love as soon as you read the description. Why? It’s important. It retells the story of Jane Austen’s literary classic Pride and Prejudice with a modern-day twist: a diverse cast of characters of color and a multicultural setting. And in doing so, it offers a fresh perspective on the characters we all know and love, as well as a window into the original story for those readers who may have found Austen’s world difficult to relate to.

Rather than 19th century English aristocrats, Pride centers on two very different families – one working class and one wealthy – in modern day Brooklyn. The Bennets become the Benitezs, a Haitian-Dominican family with five daughters that serves as the emotional center of its tight-knit community. The Darcys are a much more affluent family who move into their gentrifying Bushwick neighborhood after spending quite a bit of money turning a previously run down building into a virtual mansion.

Zuri, the Lizzie of our tale, wants to be a poet and loves her family and her Brooklyn neighborhood with all her heart. Darius (our Darcy) is pretty judgy about the new community he’s joined. Both protagonists are proud, inflexible people who are sure their perspective is the right one, and through them the novel raises important questions about class.

In short: I really really wanted to love this story. As an avowed Austen addict, I’ll read or watch anything vaguely connected to her novels and generally find a great deal of joy in the way modern authors can remix Austen’s works for our time period. But Pride still left me feeling cold, largely because even though it has a smart, well thought out setting, its depiction of Austen’s most famous romance leaves a lot to be desired.

To be sure, the most interesting part of the novel is the culture clash between the Darcys and the Benitzes, and how their individual struggle mirrors the larger issue of what’s happening in their gentrifying Bushwick neighborhood. It has some interesting things to say about the inevitability of change and how people – and communities – can grow and change without erasing all that has come before. Ibi Zoboi is at her best when writing about the colorful corner of Brooklyn Zuri inhabits, making everything from men hanging out at the local bodega to the teeming block parties feel alive and vibrant. It’s a wonderfully and fully realized world.

However, though Pride manages to tell a version of Austen’s tale that feels more than relevant in 2018, it commits a key storytelling mistake. It forgets to make its leads particularly likeable. In Austen’s original novel, both Darcy and Lizzie – especially Darcy – can occasionally be off-putting or difficult to relate to. But that’s only occasionally, and we still generally root for the both of them and want their relationship to work out. Furthermore, Austen takes pains to show readers the duo working to understand one another, even pining for each other at times.

Unfortunately, in Pride neither Zuri or Darius undergo anything that might be labeled growth, and are, essentially, the same people at the novel’s conclusion as they were on its first page. Zuri is frequently brusque, pushy, and rude without ever really considering whether she should be, and her overbearing love of all things Bushwick is never really challenged or modified in any real way. It’s great that she’s so connected to and interested in her heritage, but at no point in the novel does she seem to ever realize that there is real value in the world beyond the neighborhood she loves. For his part, Darius’ personality is barely sketched in beyond the fact that he grew up with money. He’s brusque, too, but also condescending, and makes little effort to understand the culture of the neighborhood he finds himself in.

Zuri and Darius’ connection is obvious from their initial meeting – and so is their instant dislike of each other – but for all that this is theoretically Pride and Prejudice, the novel doesn’t spend a lot of time on the turn of their feelings for one another. Both characters are just suddenly into one another romantically, despite the fact that we haven’t seen any significant change in either of them to spark such a shift. Their first kiss literally comes out of the blue, and they keep going round and round the same fights without making any real progress.

It would have been nice to really see the two fall in love, despite the things they each initially feared or disliked about one another. At no point does either seem to pine for one another or really fear the loss of the other (even when they “break up” at various points). It’s unfortunate, because the set-up of this pairing is so interesting, but the development just isn’t there.

Yet, while Pride felt disappointing, it’s still a worthwhile read. A multicultural reimagining of a literary classic feels more necessary than ever in 2018, and it’s hard not to smile at the thought of the many young women who will find this story and connect to Austen’s original through characters that look like them. Pride isn’t everything I wanted it to be, but it matters nevertheless. And that’s worth applauding.

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Pride can be found wherever books are sold.