The Laughter – Sonora Jha
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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 in which they come from, 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.
Sonora Jha has created a complex character both in tune and out of step with our time, an erudite man who inspires and challenges our sympathies. As the novel reaches its astonishing conclusion, Jha compels us to reexamine scenes in a new light, revealing a depth of loneliness in unlikely places, the subjectivity of innocence, and the looming peril of white rage in America.
An explosive, tense, and illuminating work of fiction, The Laughter is a fascinating portrait of privilege, radicalization, class, and modern academia that forces us to confront the assumptions we make, as both readers and as citizens.
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