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A Holly Jolly Diwali by Sonya Lalli

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A Holly Jolly Diwali

by Sonya Lalli
October 5, 2021 · Berkley
Contemporary Romance


A Holly, Jolly Diwali is a contemporary romance and a story about finding a place in one’s community. I really enjoyed it, but I can also see where some readers may feel the romance elements took second place to the main character’s journey of self discovery.

Niki Randhawa is a first generation Punjabi-American. She’s done everything to be the perfect daughter. She stayed out of trouble as a kid, got a degree in tech, and joined a startup that would offer her the most opportunity for advancement. At twenty-nine she’s still living at home so she can save her money to buy a place of her own one day. The problem is, Niki isn’t happy; she’s lonely and finds her job unfulfilling. When she’s downsized, Niki decides to do something spontaneous for the first time. She books a flight to Mumbai to attend a friend’s wedding and then plans on an extended vacation to get in touch with her roots.

At the wedding Niki meets Sam Mukherji, a London based bassist in a rock band. He’s not the type of guy safe-playing Niki would normally go for, but he gives her butterflies in the best way. Niki agrees to spend time with Sam and their mutual friends in Goa, prolonging their vacation romance.

There’s not much conflict to the Niki/ Sam relationship other than they live very far apart and are both figuring out what exactly they want to do with their lives. Sam knows his parents are disappointed in his career choice and Niki realizes she’s not fulfilled by the career path she chose. They’re both in a rut, which isn’t necessarily the best place to start a new relationship. That said, there’s really nothing keeping them apart other than logistics.

The novel spends as much time focusing on Niki figuring out her identity as it does with her romance. She feels too Indian in America, and too American in India, never quite fitting in in either place. We see her encounter classism and colorism during her time in India, further alienating her from her parents’ birthplace.

Even as Niki struggles to reconcile her identity as a first-generation American, she also struggles to find her place in her own family. Niki’s sister was the wild child, causing her family grief and anxiety, so Niki made sure to compensate by always doing the “right” thing and never really expressing her own needs. As a result she’s not good at identifying what kind of support she needs emotionally or asking for it, something she has to learn along the way.

There’s a lot packed into this book; a holiday romance, a struggle with cultural identity, and a need to reframe Niki’s place in her own immediate family. It’s a lot to juggle, but the novel pulls it off. The only potential issue is that the romance only takes up about half of the book, interspersed between Niki’s journey (literal and figurative) as she uses her time in India to figure herself out. Readers looking just for that romance will likely feel that the book is slow. I was so engaged with Niki as a character, and identified with her feeling unheard in her own family so much, that it wasn’t an issue for me.

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