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The Laughter – Sonora Jha

Mar/02/2024 / by Team Seema

An aging white male college professor develops a dangerous obsession with his new Pakistani colleague in this modern, iconoclastic novel that is as powerful, riveting, and disturbing as Lolita, Disgrace, and A Little Life.Dr. Oliver Harding, a tenured professor of English, is long settled into the routines of a divorced, aging academic. But his quiet, staid life is upended by his new colleague, Ruhaba Khan, a dynamic Pakistani Muslim law professor. Ruhaba unexpectedly ignites Oliver’s long-dormant passions, a secret desire that quickly tips towards obsession after her teenaged nephew, Adil Alam, arrives from France to stay with her. Oliver becomes a mentor to Adil, using his friendship with the boy to draw closer to his aunt. Getting to know them, Oliver tries to reconcile his discomfort with the worlds from which they come, and to quiet his sense of dismay at the encroaching change they represent—both in background and in Ruhaba’s spirited engagement with the student movements on campus.After protests break out on campus demanding diversity across the university, Harding finds himself and his beliefs under fire, even as his past reveals a picture more complicated than it seems. As Ruhaba seems attainable yet not, and as the women of his past taunt his memory, Harding reacts in ways shocking and devastating.

About the Author: Sonora Jha is the author of three books, most recently the novel The Laughter (2023), which is long listed for the 2024 Aspen Words Literary Prize and is named one of the Best Books of 2023 by the New Yorker, NPR, and others. After a career in journalism in India and Singapore, Dr. Jha is now a professor of journalism and an associate dean at Seattle University, USA.SEEMA’s View: Sonora Jha has crafted a complex character that both fits and stands out in our time. The book uncovers loneliness, the perspective of innocence, and the threat of white rage in America. “The Laughter” is a gripping portrayal of privilege, radicalization, class, and academia, urging us to question our assumptions as readers and citizens.

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