Monday, June 25, 2012

And Laughter Fell From the Sky by Jyotsna Sreenivasan

In And Laughter Fell From the Sky, author Jyotsna Sreenivasan introduces us to two people, Rasika and Abhay, who are in early adulthood and struggling with the weight of family expectations. Both Rasika and Abhay are the children of Indian immigrants living in Ohio and each are weighed down by the expectations their parents have of them. Their parents have struggled to give their children a good life with the many opportunities life in the US offers but have also instilled, at times imposed, the traditions and values of their homeland.  The result is two children caught between two worlds - the one their parents brought them to and the one from which they came.

Rasika maintains a perfect exterior - she drives a luxury car, dresses impeccably and her beautiful face is always made up.  At twenty six, she lives at home with her parents and works for a bank.  Her parents are anxious to get Rasika married and much time is spent evaluating potential matches and ensuring they find someone worthy of their daughter and also matched in terms of caste, career and good looks. Rasika seems to agree with these external measures of the perfect match and professes to need a man that is taller than she and well employed.  

Despite wanting and needing to be the perfect Indian daughter, Rasika has also spent much of her life trying to fit in with her peers in the US.  She describes watching and following what classmates did:

We never had worksheets in India, so when I got a worksheet, I looked at what the other kids wrote. We never had show-and-tell. I watched what the other kids brought in, and I did the same. I never brought in anything Indian. I imitated to learn to be American.

This imitation has left Rasika unsure of who she really is and what she really wants.  When she does get a sense of what she wants, she denies it if it is in conflict to what is expected of her.

Abhay has also grown up with the high expectations of his parents.  Like Rasika, he has delivered on those expectations in many ways.  He excelled in school and everyone had high hopes for a bright future. Following college, however, Abhay has been drifting.  He spends some time on a commune but leaves when he is disappointed by the utopian community. He doesn’t want to follow the traditional path into a successful, well-paying career despite his parents’ disappointment in his aimlessness. Unlike Rasika, Abhay has dealt with the expectations of his parents by flaunting them openly but he is just as affected  - in an effort to eschew what they want for him, he has lost sight of what he might want for himself.

They are an unlikely couple considering Rasika’s focus on good looks and career success but Abhay and Rasika are drawn to each other.  A struggle ensues as Rasika grapples with her parents’ expectations about whom she should be matched with and her own desires.  Rasika has spent so much time modeling herself into what is expected of her that she is completely out of touch with what she wants so that she doesn’t even at first recognize her feelings for Abhay.  It is hard to imagine a modern American couple facing love forbidden by their parents but that is exactly the predicament faced by Rasika and Abhay.

And Laughter Fell From the Sky deftly examines the damage done when someone lives up to others’ expectations or to the exclusion of their own wants and needs.  This is a problem often faced by immigrants and their children as they strive to fit into their new country.  In Rasika’s case, it is compounded by the high expectations her parents have for her and her own desperate desire to please them.  Abhay faces similar challenges but to a lesser degree because he does not slavishly follow the lead of others - he is actually determined to strike out and encounters different challenges in that effort.


My Thoughts


I felt I could relate to Rasika even though there were times I didn’t understand her choices.  Like Rasika, I have struggled with feeling obligated to my parents for all they sacrificed in order to give my brother and me our life in the US.  Somehow, I translated that into a need to live up to all their expectations, stated or not, and lost touch with what I wanted.  Fortunately I never went to the extremes that Rasika went to and I have become comfortable doing what makes me happy and worrying less about the expectations of others. I pitied Rasika at times as I watched her trapped by obligations and out of touch with what she wants.

And Laughter Fell From the Sky is very readable and alternates between Rasika and Abhay’s point of view.  The characters (although incomprehensible at times) are fascinating and it is interesting to see Abhay and Rasika’s relationship evolve throughout the book.  I love this as an immigrant story but there is something there for most (including a parallel to Wharton’s House of Mirth which Bookchick Di writes about in her review) readers.  Whether you like an immigrant story, a story about forbidden love or a multicultural story, And Laughter Fell From the Sky has something to offer!

Check back tomorrow when the author will be here for a guest post as part of the Immigrant Stories Challenge. 

Thank you to Mary at William Morrow for providing a copy of the book for review

8 comments:

  1. Glad you found it worthwhile; I plan to read it soon! Thanks for the review.

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  2. I love a good immigrant story. This one sounds like one a lot of people could relate to.

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  3. I didn't realize this was an immigrant story. Now I'm more interested than I was before. Great review!

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  4. this sounds really good and substantial! thanks for the great review- i'm intrigued!

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  5. It sounds good!

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  6. It would be very difficult to balance your own needs with parents' expectations when you know they've sacrificed to give you a better life. It sounds like a book to make you think.

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  7. This sounds like a good read, and I love the cover, too! Great review!

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  8. This sounds intriguing and reminds me of The Namesake by Jumpha Lahiri, another book on Indian assimilation and the expectations of parents.

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