Review: The Windfall

New Delhi native Diksha Basu's first novel, The Windfall, is a comedy of manners that riffs on the universal theme of keeping up with the neighbors.

When Mr. Anil Jha sells his website for a vast sum of money, he and his wife, Bindu, decide to leave their longtime home of Mayur Palli in East Delhi for a beautiful two-story house in Gurgaon, a swank district on the other side of the city. While their neighbors react to news of the relocation with suspicion (one worries the tenants who replace the Jhas will open a brothel), Mr. Jha happily greets the dawn of a new era--one filled with the right people, couches dotted with Swarovski crystals and the possibility of a swimming pool. Mrs. Jha, on the other hand, clings to a simpler life, worrying that the new house's showers aren't environmentally friendly and putting her foot down against installing bathtubs. The Jhas attempt to build rapport with their chic and condescending neighbors the Chopras, while their friend Mrs. Ray, a widow at 40, becomes better acquainted with Mr. Chopra's handsome brother.

Meanwhile, in New York, their son Rupak is concerned that he will let his parents down when they find out he's failing his business classes at Ithaca College. Worse, he hasn't told them about Elizabeth, his white American girlfriend. When he meets Serena, a gorgeous Indian girl from another part of Delhi who attends Cornell, Rupak gets caught up in the idea of the life his parents expect him to lead.

Though occasionally frothy (particularly in scenarios featuring Mr. Jha's attraction to extravagances like a shoe-polishing machine and Mr. Chopra's subsequent passive-aggressive putdowns), Basu's story also strikes serious notes. Rupak's struggle to balance family expectations with the allure of the American lifestyle echoes every young person's quest for harmony between self-discovery and social acceptance. Mrs. Ray faces an awkward existence as a young, childless widow in a society that still often expects a woman to mourn her husband's death until the day of her own, so her budding romantic feelings conflict with her adherence to propriety. The major characters, with the possible exception of Mrs. Jha, feel great pressure to force themselves into a predestined mold rather than living as they want. While Basu spotlights the expected perils of trying to buy class, The Windfall looks warmly on the forgiving nature of strong families and friendships for an ultimately delightful outing filled with laughs. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Shelf Talker: When Mr. Jha sells his website for a small fortune, he and his family face the triumphs and pratfalls of becoming nouveau riche in Delhi.

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