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3.5 

Happy Stories, Mostly

By Norman Erikson Pasaribu & Tiffany Tsao
Happy Stories, Mostly by Norman Erikson Pasaribu & Tiffany Tsao digital book - Fable

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Publisher Description

In their stunning fiction debut, queer Indonesian writer Norman Erikson Pasaribu blends together speculative fiction and dark absurdism, drawing from Batak and Christian cultural elements.

Longlisted for the International Booker Prize, Happy Stories, Mostly introduces “one of the most important Indonesian writers today” (Litro Magazine). These twelve short stories ask what it means to be almost happy—to nearly find joy, to sort-of be accepted, but to never fully grasp one's desire. Joy shimmers on the horizon, just out of reach.

An employee navigates their new workplace, a department of Heaven devoted to archiving unanswered prayers; a tourist in Vietnam seeks solace following her son’s suicide; a young student befriends a classmate obsessed with verifying the existence of a mythical hundred-foot-tall man. A tragicomic collection that probes the miraculous, melancholy nature of survival amid loneliness, Happy Stories, Mostly considers an oblique approach to human life: In the words of one of the stories’ narrators, “I work in the dark. Like mushrooms. I don’t need light to thrive.”

40 Reviews

3.5
Thumbs Up“If you ever wanted a collection of short stories that mostly (but not all) center around mom trauma, Hoo boy do I have the book for you!”
Original writingTwistyHomophobia
Surprised Face with Open Mouth
Diverse charactersBeautifully writtenFast-pacedThought-provoking
“Happy Stories, Mostly is probably my favourite read of November. Translated from Indonesian; it is a collection of 12 queer short stories that, as the title suggests—are mostly happy stories but always fall short of ever reaching happiness. It centres around “queer characters in situations and plots conventionally filled by hetero characters” (as mentioned in the blurb) with Batak and Christian elements interwoven into the storytelling—inspired by the author’s personal upbringing. Each story varies in length (sometimes a page, other times over 20) but all are equally bittersweet, sad, and depressing; with themes of loss, loneliness, missed chances and regret at the forefront. With Pasaribu’s beautiful and lyrical prose paired with Tsao’s expert translation; it will no doubt make you tear up and wish you could hug these characters. The stories work great individually, but I love how the author creates subtle links that brilliantly connect each story together without even the reader realizing it. While I couldn’t put this collection down; I think that these short stories are meant to be savoured and read slowly—something I definitely plan to do on my re-read! It is one of those collections where I know I will be gaining new insights every time I read it.”

About Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Norman Erikson Pasaribu is a Toba Batak writer of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Happy Stories, Mostly (translated by Tiffany Tsao) won the 2022 Republic of Consciousness Prize and was longlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize.

Tiffany Tsao translates Indonesian fiction and poetry. Her translations of Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s fiction have won the Republic of Consciousness Prize in the UK and been longlisted for the International Booker Prize. She is also the translator of Budi Darma’s People from Bloomington (Penguin Classics 2022). She also writes novels, the most recent of which is The Majesties (Atria Books 2020). She lives in Sydney.

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