Monday, June 18, 2012

If The House of Mirth Were Written Today, It Would Be And Laughter Fell From The Sky

And Laughter Fell From The Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan
Published by William Morrow Books, ISBN  978-0-06-210576-9
Trade paperback $14.99
Source: Won on LibraryThing

Jane Eyre has been a perpetual favorite, but 2012 seems to be the Summer of Edith Wharton. Francesca Segal has written The Innocents, a novel set in modern London and a retelling of Wharton's The Age of Innocence. Claire McMillan modernizes The House of Mirth in The Gilded Age, set in Cleveland.

Jyotsna Sreenivasan also took inspiration from The House of Mirth for her debut novel, And Laughter Fell From The Sky, about Indian immigrants trying to maintain their culture and lifestyle in modern Ohio.

Rasika is a 25-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants. She is a college graduate, has a good job at a bank, and tries to be everything that her family wants her to be; yet she is unhappy. By chance she runs into Abbay at the Oberlin College campus. Abbay was her younger brother's childhood friend, and she hasn't seen him in awhile.

Abbay seems a bit lost, having spent some time at a commune, but he has returned home to his family, hoping to find his place in this world. Running into Rasika rekindles his romantic feelings for her, but she is looking for a successful Indian man to marry, someone of whom her family would approve.

Although she is physically attracted to Abbay, he is not someone she would marry. He doesn't have a good career, and not many prospects for one. To the outside world and her family, Rasika appears happy, but she is not. She invites Abbay to meet her at a hotel in Cleveland for a secret rendezvous, where he learns that he is not the only man she has ever invited there.

By chance they run into distant family members attending a wedding, and Rasika panics that her family will find out about her affair with Abbay. She ends their relationship before it can begin, and Abbay is disconsolate.

Rasiks is living two lives; one in which her family is actively seeking a successful Indian man as her husband, and one in which she makes her own choices. You can feel her agony as the stress is tearing her apart.

Abbay declares his love for her, and tells her that she can make her own choices, her parents love her and will understand. Rasika can't disappoint her parents, and allows them to arrange a marriage for her after gossip starts buzzing in the Indian community about Rasika and her relationships with other men. They must marry her off before no respectable man will have her.

I learned so much about the Indian culture, from food to dress to the changing caste system. I particularly enjoyed the scenes set in India, and this book has encouraged me to discover more about it.

This is a wonderful debut novel, full of heart and soul, familial and romantic love, and the search for happiness. My favorite passage is Abbay speaking to Rasika:
"We've both been looking for an ideal. You think your life will be perfect if only you can be the kind of person your parents seem to want. I thought my life would be perfect if only I could find a place on earth that touched the utopia in my imagination. We're both searching for something we've built in our own brains."

I happily fell into the world of And Laughter Fell From The Sky, surrendering myself to this Indian immigrant culture about which I knew little. Rasika is such a vivid heroine, and her struggle moved me so. She wants to be a good daughter, but she also wants more for herself. It is something that many immigrants have dealt with for many years, but also something that many young people, not only immigrants, can relate to. I loved how Sreenivasan makes Rasika's timeless story seem fresh.

This is one of the best books I have read this year, and clearly the best debut novel I have read in awhile.

rating 5 of 5




2 comments:

  1. great review! I really enjoyed this one too - a perfect immigrant story!

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    1. It is the perfect book for your Immigrant Challenge and thanks for your kind words.

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