When Niki Randhawa gets fired from her high-powered job as an analyst, it sets in motion an international identity crisis in A Holly Jolly Diwali, the latest novel from author Sonya Lalli. Niki has always been the good daughter, the one who has put the wishes of her parents before her own, yet with the professional humiliation comes a sense of freedom – she flies to India for her dear friend’s wedding, which coincides with Diwali, the festival of lights (celebrated on Nov. 4 this year).
It’s an uncharacteristic trip, one that would be more at home coming from her sister, Jasmine, who has always followed her heart and refused to become a stereotype of a ‘good’ Indian daughter. As Niki begins to forge her own path, long-simmering resentments between the sisters are aired and explored for the very first time, leading to explosive confrontations and heart-warming connections.
Along the way, Niki meets Sam, a London-based musician at a professional crossroads of his own. As they travel throughout some of India’s most glamourous locales, Niki must choose what it is that she really wants to do with her life. The novel touches on heavy questions – what do we owe our families and ourselves in creating our lives? – but resolves them with sincerity and love.
Lalli draws upon her own South Asian heritage in creating her stories, and Niki’s tale of finding herself and following her own dreams for the first time in her life instead of the path her immigrant parents wished for her is filled with sweetness and heart. Throughout the novel, characters face hard truths about each other and themselves with respect and it gives the book an emotional depth that feels earned.
Although much of the emotional resonance toward the end comes from summary rather than in scene, this jet-setting holiday romance is the perfect addition to a season filled with cozy Hallmark tales of snow-covered small towns. As Niki searches for the meaning of Diwali, she comes to find that she might have had that meaning in her life all along. Like the best of holiday classics, this book feels like a warm blanket of happiness and love, where you expect a happily ever after at the end, and life doesn’t disappoint.