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The Laughter: A Novel (Paperback)
"Sonora Jha expertly inhabits the perspective of a man so terrified of the old world slipping away, he can’t see the ground shifting beneath his feet. A deliciously sharp, mercilessly perceptive exploration of power, The Laughter explores how ‘otherness’ is both fetishized and demonized, and what it means to love something—a person, a country—that does not love you back."—Celeste Ng, New York Times-bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere and Our Missing Hearts
A white male college professor develops a dangerous obsession with his new Pakistani colleague in this modern, iconoclastic novel.
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. Drawn to 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 demanding diversity across the university, Oliver 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, Oliver reacts in ways shocking and devastating.
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.
About the Author
Sonora Jha is the author of the memoir How to Raise a Feminist Son and the novel Foreign. After a career as a journalist covering crime, politics, and culture in India and Singapore, she moved to the United States to earn a PhD in media and public affairs. Sonora’s op-eds, essays, and public appearances have been featured in the New York Times, on the BBC, in anthologies, and elsewhere. She is a professor of journalism and lives in Seattle.
"Sonora Jha expertly inhabits the perspective of a man so terrified of the old world slipping away, he can’t see the ground shifting beneath his feet. A deliciously sharp, mercilessly perceptive exploration of power, The Laughter explores how ‘otherness’ is both fetishized and demonized, and what it means to love something—a person, a country—that does not love you back." — Celeste Ng, New York Times-bestselling author of Our Missing Hearts
“The Laughter is a brilliant, dangerous novel. What Sonora Jha has done in this razorblade-tense story is create one of the most infuriating, compelling, and complex characters I’ve read in a long time, a man so at war with himself he threatens to come apart at the seams. Jha is an expert chronicler of the way civility and privilege can often mask such immense, ruinous rage, and what begins as a tale of a professor’s infatuation with his colleague soon spirals into something far more sinister, a cascade of individual and institutional malice.” — Omar El Akkad, author of American War and What Strange Paradise
“A masterfully told, thrilling investigation of privilege, heritage and exoticization set against the backdrop of the American college campus. . . . Deeply complex and meaningful yet still an enthralling read, The Laughter is an ambitious novel that explores American social dynamics while never being preachy or overbearing. . . . It’s a must-read for those seeking to understand today and dream of a better tomorrow.”
— BookPage (starred review)
"Lush, chilling, and admirably complex, The Laughter is wonderful: A book full of sly wisdom, cutting insight, and heart-pounding suspense." — Julia May Jonas, author of Vladimir
"To say The Laughter is just a campus novel is to vastly undersell it; it’s also the story of America’s changing cultural landscape and the major political and philosophical shifts needed to uplift and protect the marginalized. This is a smart and hilarious book not just for anyone who wants to laugh at the absurdity of academia, but for anyone who wants to become a better person by doing it."
— New York Times Book Review
“Sonora Jha’s The Laughter takes the old suffocating male narcissist of Coetzee’s Disgrace and Nabokov’s Lolita and gives him new, previously unexplored dimension with a modern dissection of the Whiteness at his core. Dr. Oliver Harding is the best type of narrator—one whose rich character makes his profound flaws fascinating on the page, and author Jha’s inspired prose channels him as if possessed.” — Mat Johnson, author of Pym and Invisible Things
“Jha impressively avoids the trap of preachiness and moralizing that stories of identity politics on campus tend to fall into; rather, hers is a subtle and nuanced look at the subject. The novel plants seeds that turn out to be red herrings, building layer upon layer of assumptions—about campus culture, identity politics, religion, East versus West, racism, and terrorism. . . . A powerful and darkly funny campus novel with an unexpected narrative perspective.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“[This] bitingly satirical tale of a maddeningly clever yet frustratingly myopic protagonist is a gem. . . . Examining old prejudices, new fixations, and the sting of unrequited love, Jha offers a complete triumph.” — Booklist (starred review)
“A tense and propulsive tale of race and power … Jha’s gripping passion play will shock readers.” — Publishers Weekly
“Astutely provoking, deeply disturbing and unexpectedly delightful. . . . Jha is an extraordinary storyteller, aiming her shrewd erudition directly at elitism, sexism and racism.” — Shelf Awareness
“The Laughter is an impressive performance, a disturbing character study of a man who views himself as the literal White knight in almost every scenario." — Washington Post