Illicit happiness of other people

Manu Joseph's "The Illicit Happiness of Other People" is a witty look at the meaning of life, youthful idealism, adult ennui, talent (and talentlessness), and male aggression and its aftereffects.

As a bonus, the book is set in Madras (now Chennai). Manu Joseph is a wonderful writer, and his observations of Chennai life are incisively drawn: of crowded lower-middle-class apartment complexes, men leaning languidly and starting their scooters in sudden jerks, housewives on balconies making distinctions between the "front-facing" and "back-facing" balcony, youthful rides along deserted nighttime streets ... they all ring true of Madras as it was when I went to high school and college there.  Chennai is different now, of course, but the book is a wonderful look at the city of my youth. Well, he also pokes fun at IITians (actually more of the parents who desperately push their kids to get into the IIT), but I suppose I can forgive him that.

It would give away the plot to say more of the story, and you need to read the book knowing nothing of what it really is about. Instead, you follow a father as he desperately tries to figure out why his older son committed suicide. And you learn more and more as the father learns more and more.  For a book about the larger meaning of life and happiness and the sort of things that can destroy such happiness, this is a wonderful, literary device.

This is a book that is worth savoring. Read it slowly.

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