Book Pairings: The Windfall by Diksha Basu and Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith

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These books with nearly identical titles were released less than two months apart, and to make it even funnier, they were both published by imprints of Penguin Random House. 

The Windfall by Diksha Basu is a delightful comedy of manners which takes place in New Delhi. Mr. and Mrs. Jha, who have lived in the working class neighborhood of East Delhi for twenty-five years have just come into money from the sale of Mr. Jha's website and have decided to move to Guragon, a wealthier section of the city. They must first navigate the  mixed reactions of their longtime neighbors and then acclimate to the upscale lifestyle of their new neighbors. Even before they move, Mr. Jha becomes obsessed with buying the right things to fit in with their new surroundings: a fancy car, crystal chandeliers sparkling water, better shower heads and bidets, and a new sofa studded with Swarovski crystals.

One of the most entertaining parts of the novel is the passive aggressive one-upsmanship between Mr. Jha and his new neighbor, Mr. Chopra. Every sentence that passes between them is a thinly veiled attempt to best the other man.

During their first conversation, Mr. Chopra says,

"But, I am in the process of getting a swimming pool put in, so maybe we'll make it a pool party once you're settled. I know your house does not have a pool."

The story is rounded out by a cast of interesting characters and a few fun side plots, the most compelling of which is a brewing romance between Mrs. Ray, a young widow from the old neighborhood, and Mr. Chopra's brother. While the Jhas do their best to fit into their new world, they find they miss the warmth and camaraderie of East Delhi. The crystals in their fancy couch begin to dig into their backs, and they realize that the sparking life they yearned for isn't quite as comfortable as they had hoped. Basu illuminates the ways in which money can make life more complicated, while keeping the story moving with clever and often hilarious banter. 

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Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith touches on many similar themes. This young adult novel is narrated by Alice who has lived with her cousin Leo and his parents since she was orphaned at age nine. Alice, Leo, and his best friend Teddy are essentially inseparable, but what she hasn't told either of them is that she has been in love with Teddy for the past three years. When she buys a lottery ticket for him for his eighteenth birthday, she writes her true feelings in the card. But when she gives him the gift, the card slips under the fridge and Alice watches the opportunity slip away.  After they learn the ticket is worth 140 million dollars, all of their lives change forever. Teddy thinks the changes will only be for the better, but because Alice has had so much bad luck, she can't help feeling uneasy as she watches how Teddy responds to his newfound fortune and fame. 

Teddy makes the rounds of the media circuit, and soon discovers the negative changes that come with his lucky win. Paparazzi camp out on his doorstep, he gets daily unsolicited calls from financial advisers, his basketball teammates max out his credit card on a trip to Mexico, and his estranged father, who happens to be addicted to gambling, shows up at his door claiming his appearance at that moment is coincidental.

Alice says, "Teddy's always been insecure about money, and it's obvious he assumed this windfall would change all that. But having too much money comes with its own set of problems."

Throw in another possible love interest for Alice, a boyfriend for Leo, and college admissions tribulations, and the story becomes even more fun.  I wasn't surprised with the way the story tied up, but that didn't make the ride any less enjoyable. 

Both Basu and Smith explore the dark sides of a windfall—the way money corrupts the difficulty trusting relationships in the shadow of money, the complexity of deciding how the money should be spent—while managing to keep the tone light and readable. I enjoyed both books immensely and the pairing couldn't be more perfect.