Book Review: And Laughter Fell from the Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan

4 Jun

Genre: General fiction, Multicultural fiction

Publisher: Harper Collins (William Morrow)

Pub date:June 2012

Source: Publisher

Synopsis (From GoodReads)

Old family friends, Rasika and Abhay seem to have nothing in common, and yet when the two reconnect by chance, sparks immediately fly. Abhay loves Rasika, but he knows her family would never approve. Rasika knows she has feelings for Abhay, but can she turn her back on the family rules she has always tried so hard to live by? The search to find answers takes Abhay and Rasika out of their native Ohio to Oregon and India, where they find that what they have together might just be something worth fighting for.

Review

And Laughter Fell from the Sky is the story of Rasika and Abhay, young Indian-Americans who find themselves caught between two cultures. Rasika is a young professional whose parents are desperate to find her a good husband. An obedient daughter, she doesn’t want to disappoint her parents by objecting. She doesn’t seem to have an alternate plan for her life since she has accepted a long time ago that this is how it is in Indian families. But as her parents race to get her married before her twenty-sixth birthday, she hides her dalliances with men who would never be considered suitable by her family.

Abhay is an extremely intelligent young man who’s trying very hard to find himself and his place in the world. His angst-ridden search finds him living on a commune and half-heartedly working at various temporary jobs. His father is livid that Abhay isn’t able to decide on his own future and find himself a stable career. When these two people meet, they are just old childhood friends being polite to each other. They have nothing in common, but as they continue meeting and talking to each other, an attraction grows between them. As a good Indian girl who is about to get married, Rasika can’t be seen with other men lest it taint her reputation. But Abhay is convinced that Rasika is the girl for him and keeps trying to meet her.

One of the most telling points in the story is when Abhay says that Indians in the US are just there for the high-paying jobs and the things they can buy. Very few of them actually become members of the community, preferring to stay with other Indians. And many of that generation also refuse to take US citizenship, wanting to keep their link with home. They become more traditional and Indian in an attempt to hold onto their identity.

For me the part that didn’t work at all is what these two people saw in each other. For the most part, Rasika came across as rather shallow, thinking about home decor and being well-dressed. Abhay was rather different, trying hard to find freedom in everything he does and way of life that lets him do what he wants with no guilt.

What this story does well is show how much pressure young people find themselves under in Indian societies wherever they live. Especially young girls who feel the need to please their parents and understand the disappointment and humiliation they would feel if their daughters defied them. On the other hand, it seems to make them fake people, unsure of who they are and what they want from life. This is true not only of young Indian women who are living in the US or other parts of the world, increasingly it’s the same dilemma that Indian women in India also find themselves in.

And Laughter Fell from the Sky is Sreenivasan’s first novel and inspired by Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. The saddest part is that society has hardly changed from that time. Traditional Indian parents frequently stress how much freedom they give their grown up children, never seeing the hypocrisy in it. Young women are “allowed” to have jobs, go out with friends and choose their own clothes. And once they get married, their husband “allow” them to work. But when it comes to the most important decisions of their lives, parents know best, even convincing themselves that by allowing their daughters to meet and talk to their prospective husbands, they are in a much better position than older generations where the girl often didn’t meet her husband until the wedding ceremony itself.

We follow these characters from Ohio to Oregon to India, and each of the places that they visit is lovingly described. After having a few close shaves, Rasika’s parents take her to India to meet and marry an eligible man that they’ve found for her. Weighed by guilt, she agrees and wants to do everything she can to make sure that this alliance becomes successful. Abhay also finds himself in India, on his spiritual quest, going to Auroville to see if that is a community where he fits in. It is in India that the two characters are forced to examine their lives and choices more closely.

Verdict

The ending is a little forced and rather too neat, but look beyond these two characters, and this is a powerful story of the lives that many young people lead and the pressures that they have to overcome to find happiness.

Rating: 3.5*

*See my Rating policy

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2 Responses to “Book Review: And Laughter Fell from the Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan”

  1. Stephanie @ Read in a Single Sitting June 5, 2012 at 12:59 am #

    This sounds like a fascinating set-up, and the characters sound like they’re dealing with a lot of similar things to what my Indian-Australian friends have struggled with. My husband (Malaysian-Chinese Australian), too, has struggled with the cultural identity issue and having his identity constructed by those around him.

    • stargazerpuj June 7, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

      This was not my favourite read, but I see the same thing with the young British-Indians in the UK as well. Very difficult to find a cultural identity when you’re so far away from your parents/family culture.

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