First generation immigrants remember the trials and triumphs of trying to maintain ties to their native culture and adjusting to their adoptive land. While they struggle to establish their careers and social lives in America, they often worry about their parents in India. From their perspective, their children born in this country are immune to such conflicts. Jyotsna Sreenivasan’s novel, And Laughter Fell from the Sky, addresses the pressures of the second generation Indian-Americans as they try to find a balance between the expectations of their families, and their desires to follow their vision.
According to the author, her debut novel was inspired by Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. Sreenivasan’s characters Rasika and Abhay are in some ways parallel to Wharton’s Lily Bart and Lawrence Selden. Many young Indian-Americans feel a similar schism between finding and marrying the “right” person who will please their parents, and striving toward their own dreams.
In her novel Sreenivasan reveals a keen insight into the minds of her characters. Rasika, the heroine, is a well-educated, career woman who lives at home and appears to be an exemplary daughter. She wants to please her parents and hides her “active social life” from them. Abhay, the hero, on the other hand, defies the expectations of his (and most Indian-American) families. He has lived in a commune, and in spite of a college degree, hasn’t pursued further studies, or a career. Rasika sees him often, but thinks he is not up to her standards. She won’t entertain the thought of marrying him because she wants a handsome man with a good career. She agrees to go along with her parents’ wishes to marry a person who appears to be a perfect match for her. Yet, she continues to see Abhay.
Just as Sreenivasan finds Lily Bart’s character “fascinating and frustrating,” the readers are fascinated, but more often frustrated with Rasika’s attitude. She seems to have two sets of watertight emotional compartments, one to deal with her family’s expectations, and the other to satisfy her desires. Abhay points out this dichotomy and asks her to be true to herself. He continues to search for some purpose in his life and she helps him find his focus, and helps realize his potential.
Alternating between the points of view of Rasika and Abhay, Sreenivasan vividly portrays intricacies of family dynamics. Through their eyes readers get a glimpse of the Indian dinner parties with delicious food and colorful saris where mothers and fathers brag about their children, and look down on those who “don’t act Indian.” In addition to seeing Portland, including commune living, readers can follow the travels of Rasika and Abhay to Bangalore and Auroville.
Sreenivasan says, in her twenties she read The Woman Warrior, a memoir about growing up Chinese-American, by Maxine Hong Kingston. That book made her realize that the issues she faced were not unique to her or to Indian-Americans, but to the children of many other immigrants as well. Her interest in this particular generation inspired her to start a website: Second Generation Stories (www.SecondGenStories.com) where she features books written by the children of immigrants from other countries.
Just as Sreenivasan could relate to those stories, many children might relate to her autobiographical children’s novel, Aruna’s Journeys. She is the author of short stories, essays, non-fiction reference books and fiction for children. Her first published short story appeared in India Currents in 1992. Her short story “The Perfect Sunday” received an honorable mention and was the 2011 Katha finalist. She also runs an online Gender Equality Bookstore (www.GenderEqualBooks.com).
If the author’s intent in And Laughter Fell from the Sky is to define the issues faced by the children of immigrants, she has clearly accomplished that goal. Not just young Indian-Americans, but people of all ages and cultural backgrounds can relate to this story of family and love. No wonder the novel was included in a Barnes and Noble blog post as one of the five “Great Books You Missed in 2012.”
Hemlata Vasavada and her husband emigrated from India in 1968 with their one-year old daughter. She has a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Jodhpur. She is an office holder in Skagit Valley Writer’s League. Her articles and humor pieces have been published in the Seattle Times, the Syracuse Herald, Northwest Life & Times, Tea A Magazine, RV Journal, Houston Chronicle, The Herald (Everett), Skagit Valley Writers’ Anthology, Khabar (including an interview with author Bharti Kirchner), and “I should Have Stayed Home” anthology from RDR Books.