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Booker International Longlist 2022 – Happy Stories, Mostly

Happy Stories Mostly

Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu Translated by Tiffany Tsao

Book 2

Reviewed by Rachel & Tracy

Synopsis from Booker Prize website:Powerful blend of science fiction, absurdism and alternative-historical realism that aims to destabilise the heteronormative world and expose its underlying rot. Translated by Tiffany Tsao.

Inspired by Simone Weil’s concept of ‘decreation’ and drawing on Batak and Christian cultural elements, in Happy Stories, Mostly Pasaribu puts queer characters in situations and plots conventionally filled by hetero characters.

In one story, a staff member is introduced to their new workplace – a department of Heaven devoted to archiving unanswered prayers. In another, a woman’s attempt to vacation in Vietnam after her gay son commits suicide turns into a nightmarish failed escape. And in a speculative-historical third, a young man finds himself haunted by the tale of a giant living in colonial-era Sumatra.

Rachel’s Thoughts:  Pasaribu is the only author on the longlist who I’ve read before, and I was surprised at just how pleased I was to see him again!

Many of the stories are written from the perspective of friends or family of gay characters, people who love them – but don’t accept them, people who are somehow responsible for the ‘mostly’ in their happy stories. The themes are heartbreaking, and yet are told with a brightness, a playfulness and a sense of the absurd. We spend time in heaven (which looks awfully like an open-plan office) & with a character berating her author for lack of detail.

I’m not a re-reader, but I’m looking forward to reading this again at a slower pace, and I’m sure I’ll see different things in it next time, which is always a good sign.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Tracy’s Thoughts:  A group of related stories, placing queer characters in situations normally faced by straight ones, they address fairly serious situations with humor.

What really makes them unique is that the stories seem to talk to each other, bringing in some elements of magical realism and lots of pop culture references and a bit of spiritualism.

I really wanted to love this one, but the stories just didn’t feel complete, even when they “talked” to each other. This may be a book I need to revisit in the future, when I’m not evaluating it for review .

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 15/20

Elena Knows 18.25
Happy Stories, Mostly 16

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