‘The Laughter’ by Sonora Jha – Big White Man on Campus


‘The Laughter’ by Sonora Jha   (2023) – 302 pages


In ‘The Laughter’, Oliver Harding has been a tenured English professor at a Seattle university for a long time. He is working on a book on the life of the English writer G. K. Chesterson. He is in his mid-fifties. Harding, a quite conservative white male professor, tells his own story in ‘The Laughter’.

Oliver has been divorced for a long time. His daughter Kathryn will not even invite him to her wedding, let alone let him walk her down the aisle. Oliver has long been interested when younger women join the university faculty, so when Juhaba Khan, a woman in her thirties, arrives, he admits that it began as lust.

Juhaba arrived from Paris, but her family is originally from Pakistan. Her 15 year-old nephew Adil Alam is staying with her after he got in some school trouble in Paris. Oliver thinks he can win Juhaba’s affections through this boy, so he hires the boy to walk his dog daily.

Meanwhile the FBI and other local and school authorities begin to monitor the Muslim Juhaba and her nephew. Oliver informs the FBI about Adil’s school problems in Paris, whereupon the authorities become even more concerned. Oliver even tells the FBI agents about a hidden folder on Ruhaba’s computer in which she writes private sensitive messages expressing her anger and her rages about police activities that she has become aware of. Meanwhile Oliver pursues Juhaba as a possible romantic interest.

All of this takes place in the lead-up to the 2016 US Presidential election in which everyone assumes Hillary Clinton will prevail.

Despite its title, ‘The Laughter’ is not always a humorous campus novel in the vein of ‘Lucky Jim’ or ‘The Groves of Academe’. The issues raised are much too weighty and serious for that. The novel does capture the current situation of campus politics. I suppose one could see Oliver Harding’s behavior as funny in a certain light when he is not being cruel. When out driving he sees a young hipster with a man bun riding a bicycle, Oliver drives “too close to the mandated bicycle lane in my hope of tipping him over”.

The ending of ‘The Laughter’ is very effective. This incredible yet entirely believable ending of ‘The Laughter’ dramatizes the current state of paranoia toward Muslims in the United States.


Grade:   A-




5 responses to this post.

  1. Chesterton is an interesting but not very subtle choice for the character’s field of study. I can’t remember how I know this but GJC was an exponent of ‘muscular Christianity’ and apparently his books (of which I’ve read only one, The Man Who Was Thursday) and the cheesy TV Father Brown series derived from them are assertions of his religious belief.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Yes, G. K. Chesterton is one of those English intellectuals who seems to have been relegated to minor status. I have never felt any urge to read the Father Brown mysteries. I mostly know of Chesterton through his quotes, and I haven’t seen even those quoted lately. I suppose if Sonora Jha wanted to show a professor out of step with our time, Chesterton was a good or obvious choice for his field of study.



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