Title: And Laughter Fell from the Sky
Author: Jyotsna Sreenivasan
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Cultural Fiction (South Asian)
Rating: 4 out of 5
Rasika is a beautiful, dutiful model Indian daughter, at least in her parents’ eyes. Though she is twenty-five years old, she still lives at home with her parents in Ohio, working a job at the bank. But her parents don’t know about Rasika’s secret life: seducing men, finding thrills in doing the things that are seemingly normal for American twenty-somethings. When Rasika runs into Abhay, an old friend who is wandering aimlessly through his life, unsure of what he should be doing with it, she doesn’t know that they will change each other forever.
Jyotsna Sreenivasan based her debut novel And Laughter Fell from the Sky on Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. While I haven’t read this classic work of literature, I can completely understand why Sreenivasan saw parallels between the culture reflected in that book and the one she grew up in. Indian culture is often restrictive, especially when considered from an American point of view. Sons and daughters are expected to fulfill their parents’ wishes, to abide by cultural expectations that might seem foreign to them after being raised in the United States.
Rasika is one such daughter of America. She knows what’s expected of her, and she wants nothing more than to please her parents. Yes, there’s a part of her that wants to date who she wants and be able to live according to her own wishes, but she tries as hard as she can to push that down. She’s so torn, so conflicted; it almost makes her difficult to like, because she seems so two-faced. One second she is welcoming to Abhay, the next it seems like she’s using him. It makes Rasika seem cold. But as the novel progresses, the reader sees how torn she is, and it makes her a very sympathetic character. She sees herself as weak for indulging in these romantic dalliances, for being attracted to Abhay. She wants to be perfect for her parents, to be the daughter they want her to be.
Abhay is a completely different story in And Laughter Fell from the Sky. He suffers from one of the classic burdens of his generation: he’s paralyzed by the breadth of his choices. Abhay is exceptionally smart and has the flexibility to do almost anything he wants. Because he can’t make a decision and settle on one thing, he can’t excel at anything and instead floats aimlessly through life, crippled by his indecision. While he tries to fix Rasika, to make her see that it’s okay for them to want to be together, Rasika tries to bring some direction to his life. He can be a frustrating character, but the reader can’t help but like him because of his devotion to Rasika.
Though coming-of-age novels usually feature protaganists in their teens or early twenties, it’s safe to say that And Laughter Fell from the Sky is a coming-of-age for both Rasika and Abhay. Rasika must decide what she wants for herself, whether it’s her parents’ wishes or her own, and that will set the course of the rest of her life, while Abhay must also make difficult decisions. It’s a contemplative, character-driven novel that will intrigue readers interested in multicultural stories. Sreenivasan’s prose is crisp and easy to read, and readers will itch to discuss Rasika and the novel’s outcome with others, making this a great book club pick. While some may be disappointed in the novel’s final outcome, it’s the characters that really make And Laughter Fell from the Sky worth reading.