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What happens to women who have devoted themselves to their husbands and children when those they have built their lives around no longer need them? This is the difficult, emotional question at the heart of Sarah-Kate Lynch’s latest novel Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga.
The answer, at least for our protagonist Annie, comes in a vibrant and unexpected package.
Annie is about to hit rock bottom – and with good reason. She almost never hears from her son Ben and her overindulged daughter Daisy only gets in touch when she wants to make a withdrawal from the bank of mum. Annie’s own gentle and loving mother has just passed away after a short battle with dementia and her husband Hugh has become more like a flatmate than a husband – he’s there but does he actually “see” her anymore? Just as Annie teeters on the brink of despair and depression, the disappearance of her beloved canine companion Bertie tips her over the edge.
When Hugh presents Annie with tickets to accompany him on a work trip to India, she cannot think of anything worse than a holiday in smelly, dirty, crowded, humid Mumbai. She has no intention of venturing past the gates of the hotel and every intention of staying in her air conditioned room ordering from room service. But fate has other plans and through a friendly waiter named Valren she is introduced to Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga.
It’s unlike any Yoga class you have ever heard of: held on the sands of Chowpatty Beach as the sun comes up on the frenetically paced city, the forced laughter exercises soon induce genuine mirth and joy. Despite her myriad of initial misgivings, Annie is drawn back each day to the embrace of this circle of men and women and their kind-hearted leader Heavenly Hirani. It also sparks off a chain reaction within Annie, and as she begins to explore the treasures of Mumbai aided by her devoted, unintentionally comical (and very wise) personal taxi driver Pinto, she learns all manner of things about herself.
This is Sarah-Kate Lynch at her funny, clever and insightful best. At times I wanted to shake her character of Annie as she curled up inside her timid shell, but by the end I wanted to hug her tight for the brave and honest transformation and self-discovery she had gone through, staring down empty nest syndrome and firmly kicking its butt. It’s a story younger women will connect with, perhaps having seen Annie’s dilemmas reflected in their own mums, while older readers will nod their heads sagely and with a wry smile think “yep, been there, done that, lived to tell the tale.”
And no matter what age you are, you’ll be captivated by the crazy, colourful, chaotic city of Mumbai brought vividly to life on the page by Sarah-Kate’s gorgeous descriptions. Like Annie (and the author), I have never had any desire to visit India but all that changed reading this novel – maybe Sarah-Kate needs to start charging the Indian ministry of tourism commission!
Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga is tender, big hearted story about a woman rediscovering herself and her place in the world, infused with all the wit and warmth we have come to know and love Sarah-Kate Lynch for.
Reviewed by Kelly Bold
Heavenly Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga
by Sarah-Kate Lynch
Published by Black Swan NZ