Hostos President Dr. Daisy Cocco De Filippis and faculty heap praise on the book, which deals with issues of "otherness" and who is permitted to have a voice in society.


Dr. Sonora Jha speaks at Hostos about the transgressive nature of her book.

On Thursday, November 9, Dr. Sonora Jha came to Hostos Community College to discuss her new novel, “The Laughter,” and share insights on the book’s themes, her inspiration, and her creative process with Hostos President Dr. Daisy Cocco De Filippis, faculty, staff and students.

Dr. Jha, an essayist, novelist, and professor of Journalism at Seattle University, has also authored the novel “Foreign” (2013) and “How To Raise A Feminist Son: A Memoir and Manifesto” (2021). “The Laughter” has earned rave reviews from The New York Times, The New Yorker, India Today, and The Seattle Times and received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Bookpage, and others. In this book, a white male college professor develops a dangerous obsession with his new Pakistani colleague. 

President Cocco De Filippis opened the event by welcoming Dr. Jha to Hostos and expressed her joy at being able to explore “The Laughter” with the author herself. As a fellow immigrant woman of letters, she felt so many of the book’s themes resonated clearly with her, and she had enthusiastically assigned the book to her executive cabinet members to read as well. 

Andrea Fabrizio, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, then sat down with Dr. Jha and led a fascinating Q&A session that dug into the origins and meaning of the novel. A surprising aspect of the work is that it took a while for the author to get it published, with many agents and editors saying that, as a woman of color, it seemed odd for her to write in the voice of a white man. But, she explained, this seemed transgressive and ultimately intriguing enough to secure a publisher.

And the theme of being “the other” in a white man’s world is central to the story. Even the title, explained Dr. Jha, refers to the question of who gets to laugh, and who gets to be the funny one. The book’s narrator, a white male college professor, thinks of himself as the witty one, but the Pakistani female professor that he’s obsessed with cannot be. “Men are worried that women will laugh at them, and women are worried that men will kill them,’ she said, pointing to the age-old patriarchal imbalance of power and insecurity.

This theme of “otherness” took on even more significance while she was writing the book after the 2016 elections resulted in a period of heightened xenophobia and a rolling back of women’s rights. Immigrants, who generally want to assimilate into their new communities, are reminded constantly to “know our place instead of living as our full selves,” and the incumbent white society feels no real obligation to hear the other’s voices, expecting them instead to just pliantly try to fit in. But, as she quoted one of the characters in the book, “It's hard to love a country that doesn't love you back.”  The story has a harrowing ending that underscores the complexities of the underlying issues and leaves the reader to ponder the depths of rage and malice that too often flare up between people. The story, said Dr. Jha, was informed by real-life experiences, and hopes to illuminate some of the darker aspects of our psyches. “Fiction is a lie we tell to get to the truth,” she added. 

Finally, Dr. Jha revealed that the book has already been optioned by major Hollywood producers to adapt the story into a feature film. So, with any luck, we will also be able to enjoy the story on the silver screen someday.

The discussion ended with a lively round of questions from the audience, and the President presented Dr. Jha and Dean Fabrizio with certificates commemorating the event. Dr. Jha then graciously signed copies of her book for the lucky attendees who received copies.
About Eugenio María de Hostos Community College

Hostos Community College is an educational agent for change that has been transforming and improving the quality of life in the South Bronx and neighboring communities for over half a century. Since 1968, Hostos has been a gateway to intellectual growth and socioeconomic mobility, as well as a point of departure for lifelong learning, success in professional careers, and transfer to advanced higher education programs.

Hostos offers 28 associate degree programs and two certificate program that facilitate secure transfer to The City University of New York’s (CUNY) four-year colleges or baccalaureate studies at other institutions. A two-time Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence finalist, the College has an award-winning Division of Continuing Education & Workforce Development that offers professional development courses and certificate-bearing workforce training programs. Hostos is part of CUNY, the nation’s leading urban public university, which serves more than 500,000 students at 25 colleges.
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