cover image Happy


Celina Baljeet Basra. Astra House, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-1-66260-230-6

Basra’s formally inventive debut traces a young Punjab man’s hopeful and disenchanting migration from India to Europe. The youngest of four children, Happy Singh was given by his aspirational Sikh parents “the most international name they knew.” The agricultural economy of their small village in Punjab is decimated by the arrival of Wonderland, a derivative amusement park where Happy, formerly a cabbage farmer, gets a dead-end job, dreaming all the while of a better life—and perhaps a film career inspired by his beloved Jean-Luc Godard. Happy saves enough money to secure a clandestine passage to Italy, where he discovers he’s thousands of euros in debt to his “coordinators” and unable to gain legal working papers or to return home. With no other options, he finds work on a radish farm. As optimistic as he is naive, Happy endures in no small part due to his rich (and sometimes raunchy) imaginative inner life. Revealed in short snippets of imagined dialogue and interspersed with the perspectives of other characters and even inanimate objects, Happy’s view of the world starts off as quirky and charming, but gains increasing pathos as the divide between his starry-eyed hopes and his increasingly hopeless reality grows. Happy’s singular voice echoes long after the close to this striking story. (Nov.)