Because Jhumpa Lahiri isn't churning out fiction fast enough to keep up with my reading pace, I often turn to other Indian American authors for books about Indian culture, coming of age in America, and the generational clash between Indian parents and their more Americanized children. It's a topic I find fascinating, partly because one of my best friends is Indian and studied and wrote about this topic for his senior thesis in college. While doing research, he and I tag-teamed on reading as many contemporary books about the Indian American experience as we could. I only wish this And Laughter Fell from the Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan had been around six years ago for us to talk about.
Although I had a hard time relating to Rasika, I was fascinated by (and at times truly annoyed with) her character. I can't comprehend what it would be like to have parents who wanted to arrange a marriage for me, but Rasika feels so strongly that she must follow her parents' wishes that she leads what is almost a double life. Around them she plays the part of dutiful daughter, but secretly she explores her own wishes, desires, and dreams. This conflict of selves leaves her almost wooden in her inward thoughts and feelings, and she copes by focusing on trivial matters. She likes to shop and decorate, and feels in control when picking out clothing or putting on her makeup. At first I thought this was just an expression of how vapid and materialistic Rasika was, and then I realized it was a coping mechanism used by this desperate woman who had no real control over her life.
I identified more with Abhay, who is a recent college grad without much purpose in his life. He bounces from job to job, not finding satisfaction in any of them. He thinks living in a commune is the answer, but quickly realizes that the situation is far from what he actually wants. It's not entirely clear to me why he falls in love with Rasika (other than she's beautiful), but perhaps it has something to do with wanting to return to a happier time in his life. As the older sister of a childhood friend, she reminds him of growing up, and what it felt like to be good at everything--winning competitions, gaining recognition for amazing grades, and feeling as though the possibilities for his future are endless. If that's the time in his life he wants to return to, I can't blame him.
The plot of the book is a bit rambling, and I felt as though the part where Abhay moves to Portland could have been pared down and tightened, but overall I found it compelling and I wanted to keep reading. The end isn't a surprise, although I won't reveal it here, but I still enjoyed the book overall as a fun beach read. It's interesting to read about the prospect of an arranged marriage--something that I don't imagine I will ever encounter firsthand--and seeing it through the eyes of Rasika and Abhay helped me understand more why people my age sometimes still follow this option. Although the characters' dialogue was at times stilted and formulaic, I think Sreenivasan has potential as an author, and I'm excited to see what she writes next.