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The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph

Posted by Caitie F on January 27, 2013

Title: The Illicit Happiness of Other PeopleIllicitHappiness_Mech_9.6.indd
Author: Manu Joseph
Softcover: 336 pages
Pub Date: Jan 7, 2013
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Rating: ++++

Summary from goodreads:

Ousep Chacko, journalist and failed novelist, prides himself on being “the last of the real men.” This includes waking neighbors upon returning late from the pub. His wife Mariamma stretches their money, raises their two boys, and, in her spare time, gleefully fantasizes about Ousep dying. One day, their seemingly happy seventeen-year-old son Unni—an obsessed comic-book artist—falls from the balcony, leaving them to wonder whether it was an accident. Three years later, Ousep receives a package that sends him searching for the answer, hounding his son’s former friends, attending a cartoonists’ meeting, and even accosting a famous neurosurgeon. Meanwhile, younger son Thoma, missing his brother, falls head over heels for the much older girl who befriended them both. Haughty and beautiful, she has her own secrets.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

I am always looking for literary fiction that takes place in other countries, so when I was contacted about this book I jumped at the chance to read it. I have enjoyed a lot of the world literature I have read and I really love learning about other parts of the world and books are the easy way to do that from my own home.

I am SO glad I read this book. Reading about the Chacko family not only let me see a small piece of Indian culture, but was also an amazing story. All of the characters reacted in different ways to Unni’s suicide and still deal with it daily three years later. It did a wonderful job of showing how suicide can change a family and even a community. The reader gets to learn about Unni from Ousep’s search for the truth. I really love books that tell the story in a different way and all of these flashbacks let that happen. There is always suspicion to the accuracy of these stories since people remember things they want to remember and omit things that make them look bad. That is not to say you don’t learn what actually happened, because you do, it just lets the story unfold in a unique way.

I was shocked with the pressure that the young men and women are under in this area of India. They are all supposed to become engineers and everything relies on tests to see if they can go straight to the US on scholarship. They got beaten in classes and at home. They are berated for missing only a few questions. It also shows how women are treated and that was hard to read, especially with everything that has been in the news about women in India. I know that this snapshot is only a small area and is not true for everyone, but it really opened my eyes and made me excited to read more books that take place in India.

My one complaint with the book is there is a lot of philosophy. It is not an interest of mine and I think when there is too much in a work of fiction it takes away from the story, which happened in this book. Unni’s philosophy may have contributed to his suicide, but it stopped the momentum of the book and got to be too much. But there isn’t so much that it would make me say to skip this book, because it is fantastic.

Have you read any good books lately that take place in countries other than the United States? Let me know in the comments!

2 Responses to “The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph”

  1. Jason said

    Sounds interesting. I teach a lot of Indian students, so the book may be of some interest to me. I happen to like philosophy in my literature – I like it when a book makes me see something I never saw before/thought of before, so I should check this one out. Thanks!

  2. […] A book with an emotion in the title: The Illicit Happiness of Other People […]

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