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Cover for The Illicit Happiness of Other People

The Illicit Happiness of Other People

A Novel

Manu Joseph


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A quirky and darkly comic take on domestic life in southern India.

The PEN Open Book Award called Manu Joseph "that rare bird who can wildly entertain his readers as forcefully as he moves them." In The Illicit Happiness of Other People, Joseph brilliantly brings his talents to the story of an Indian Christian family living far afield in south India.

It has been three years since seventeen-year-old Unni Chacko mysteriously fell from a balcony to his death. His family—journalist father Ousep, who smokes two cigarettes at once “because three is too much”; mother Mariamma, who fantasizes gleefully about murdering her husband; and twelve-year-old love-struck brother Thoma with zero self-esteem, have coped by not coping. When the post office delivers a comic drawn by Unni that had been lost in the mail, Ousep, shocked out of his stupor, ventures on a quest to understand his son and rewrite his family’s story.

Combining family drama with philosophy, social satire with satisfying storytelling, The Illicit Happiness of Other People reminds us that the greatest mystery of all—the one most worth our time and energy—is understanding the people we love.

Praise For The Illicit Happiness of Other People: A Novel

Ingeniously constructed…[Joseph is] using his witty, incisive writing to explore the great philosophical questions of happiness and life.
— Manil Suri, author of The City of Devi

Wonderful…The Illicit Happiness of Other People…injects dark, rueful laughter into an immensely touching story of loss.

— Wall Street Journal

The Illicit Happiness of Other People is ambitious. It is the story of a family getting to know itself, of a socialist India that no longer exists and of a society obsessed with grades. It is a plot-driven yarn with themes of morality, sexuality, psychiatry and yet more science and philosophy…But it does not feel overburdened…Quite an achievement.

— The Economist

Fusing ribald farce with poignant drama…Joseph deftly rotates narrative points of view…[and] embellishes each strand with vibrant dabs of local color…that help showcase India in all its sublime and absurd glory…Wild, irreverent and blackly comic.
— Malcolm Forbes - Star Tribune

The Illicit Happiness of Other People is both a terribly funny and deeply sad story…Beautifully written…Manu Joseph perfectly captures his characters in his precise, sharp prose.

— Ariel Balter - New York Journal of Books

Joseph’s prose is exquisitely phrased without an excess of sentimentality…The confident, immersing voice of Illicit Happiness promises readers this is not the last we’ve heard of Manu Joseph.

— Telegraph (UK)

Joseph writes with extraordinary wit, cunning and sympathy about both family relationships and ultimate mysteries.
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Joseph’s smart new novel is laced with black humor and keen observations on human nature…Joseph’s rich characters intersect in moments of tenderness.
— Publishers Weekly

Sublime…Joseph’s witty narrative adds depth and vigor to the Chacko family’s tale and assuredly explores the complexity of self-perception amid present-day life.
— Leah Strauss - Booklist

W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393338621, 352pp.

Publication Date: January 7, 2013

About the Author

Manu Joseph, who lives in New Delhi, is a columnist for the International Herald Tribune. His first novel, Serious Men, won the PEN/Open Book Award and was shortlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize.