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New York Times Reviews ‘The Laughter’

Is It a Campus or a Powder Keg? In This Novel, It’s Both.

In her new novel, “The Laughter,” Sonora Jha satirizes academia by following an older, white male professor who is lusting after his younger, Pakistani colleague, all while a student protest brews.

By Rafael Frumkin

THE LAUGHTER, by Sonora Jha

The campus novel is a well-worn genre. We’ve already read about the hapless white men in their early middle age, navigating the politics of uptight English departments and falling hopelessly in love with bewitching undergraduates. Each of these academics has his arcane specialization, and each laments the rising tide of social consciousness among his students: Will the forces of cultural relativism not stop until every university, every haven of logical thought and rational inquiry, is burned completely to the ground? Unfortunately for the men in Sonora Jha’s new novel, “The Laughter,” the answer may very well be yes.

The novel is narrated by Oliver Harding, scholar of the Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton and divorced philanderer. He’ll be familiar to readers: He is an aging English professor obsessed with a beautiful younger woman. The woman is Ruhaba Khan, a Pakistani law professor whose voice comes to us only in her emails — an intriguing elision not unlike the titular character’s from “Lolita.” Ruhaba is curious, vivacious and compassionate, the kind of woman who Oliver feels can give him the joy he lacks, and whose imperfections he overlooks in service of his lust.

Why, in our era of increased consciousness around issues of race, xenophobia and misogyny, do we need another book from the point of view of a sex-obsessed straight white man? Because “The Laughter” is not just any book from such a perspective — it’s a no-holds-barred comic achievement that lambastes the power structures keeping men like Oliver skulking the halls of academe. Read the full review at The New York Times.

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