Fresh from a commune, living at home and unsure of his next move, twenty-something Abhay is adrift when he runs into Rasika, the older sister of an old school friend. She’s attractive, put-together, posh — everything Abhay knows he isn’t. But he can’t deny how easily the conversation flows between them, filled with the indecision and not-knowing of life as a modern twenty-something. Especially for the Indian-American pair.
Though Rasika enjoys seeing Abhay and treasures their candid conversation, she knows she has a part to play: that of the loyal, dutiful Indian daughter, a woman who would never disgrace her conservative family. And though she occasionally enjoys “seeing” men, the 26-year-old Rasika knows the path that’s been set for her: an arranged marriage. And Abhay knows it, too.
But as the story moves from Ohio to India, from duty to desire, from family to forging a new identity, the pair must make hard choices that could spell lifelong happiness or eternal regret.
Jyotsna Sreenivasan’s And Laughter Fell From The Sky, a modern story paying homage to Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, was an engaging, fulfilling read — one that started slow but gradually picked up pace until I was hanging on by fraying fingernails.
Rasika is Sreenivasan’s stand-out character: a woman torn between two very different worlds. There’s her traditional side, her very Indian side — the one in which she does as her parents ask. Obsessed with the fineries of life, Rasika knows her good job and social standing are crucial to maintaining her image. But spin around and see the rebellious, hiding-a-smirk-behind-her-hand Rasika: the one that understands her family’s viewpoints but doesn’t agree. That side that sneaks around behind their backs, shimmying out of her skirt when they’re not looking. The Rasika that wants to do only as she wishes.
I could relate to that, honestly. Um, not in a tawdry way (though Rasika isn’t) — just in the way that we all wear different hats, so to speak, and represent different things to different people. While outsiders might views arranged marriages with a skeptical eye, Rasika is very respectful of her parents’ wishes — and knows this arrangement would make them happy. Though Abhay is a charming guy, a nice kid, it can’t go anywhere. Besides, they’re not equals . . . not even in America. The die has been cast.
Or has is it?
So much of And Laughter Fell From The Sky centers on tension. Sexual, romantic, familial, job-related . . . obligation and love and obsession are all cast into one flavorful stew, and Sreenivasan’s thought-provoking novel is the main dish. Beyond the “getting to know you” exposition in the beginning, the novel’s pace is brisk and reflective. I felt the plot could veer in any number of different directions, which kept the experience fresh for me. And I really felt I’d climbed inside the heads of Rasika and Abhay, muttering under my breath when they were acting stupid.
Because they just did sometimes. Act stupid, that is. I was often frustrated by the pair and wondered why they couldn’t just work things out, though Sreenivasan did an admirable job of explaining cultural conventions and the perspectives influencing their decisions. So even though I wanted them to just fix things, I understood why it was far more complicated than that. And I liked that there were no easy answers.
Fans of contemporary fiction, second-generation stories and glimpses of modern families will find plenty to ponder in And Laughter Fell From The Sky. Though the story occasionally raised my blood pressure, I found it realistic — and you know, I just really liked it. It worked for me.
4 out of 5!