Tony's Reviews > Stories of Happy People

Stories of Happy People by Lars Gustafsson
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's review
Dec 26, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: scandinavian
Read from December 22 to 25, 2012


No. Not you. Well, maybe you.

I meant, this is happy? Or, these people are happy? Because the people in this book of short stories, Stories of Happy People, do not seem happy. At least they don't seem like tra-la-la-la-la happy. No one hits the lottery, scores a winning touchdown, has great sex. There are no kucha-kucha-kooo baby smiles. No V-E kisses in Times Square.

No the Happy People here are not happy like that. No yays. I had to check the title in the original Swedish: Berättelser om lyckliga människor. 'Lyckliga' being the operative word. I have to confess that my Swedish is no better than my Gaelic, for which I have been recently ridiculed. But my internet translators all say that lyckliga does indeed mean happy.

So much Scandinavian literature, and maybe all Scandinavian music, portrays the snow, the cold of those northern lands. But there is no frozen landscape in Gustafsson's stories. Instead, the cold has turned inward. The characters are numb. Whatever has happened to turn them so has happened, or is happening. But for reasons sometimes apparent, sometimes obscure, they respond with resignation, acceptance, even apathy.

We watch the life of an autistic man, simple needs being met, in "Greatness Strikes Where it Pleases". Frederika may be insane, in "The Bird in the Breast", but she fights off the Prisoner and even the nurses thanks to that wonderful eponymous bird that becomes one with her. Senility, for another character, is a way "Out of the Pain". An insomniac looks through phonebooks in distant cities and finds the name of a first love. An engineer, Uncle Sven, is clueless in China, even as he teaches engineering principle through the prism of Mao's Red Book. Adulteries happen, run their course; couples splinter, and people go their own ways.

This is a book where I can truly say that the whole is greater than its parts. Such an odd, banal title almost turned me away. What kind of reader would like these people?

Happy? I don't know. Lyckliga?
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Petra X (new)

Petra X The title immediately brought to mind the first line in Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

message 2: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· I wonder..... Swedish is a Germanic language. And in German, the word glücklich can mean happy, yes, but it can also mean fortunate. As indeed it can in English too, as in a happy circumstance. It's just that I believe that in German, the association with luck is much stronger. A common mistake made by German speakers is to say lucky when they mean happy, and the other way round, when I use Glück, then people will query whether I mean Glück or Glückseligkeit, which latter word refers to the euphoric feeling rather than the activity of Fortuna. The goddess that is, not the soccer club.

message 3: by Tony (last edited Dec 26, 2012 11:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tony Glück?

The mentally retarded man "knew since long ago that all time and everything that grew were as mysterious and great as he was himself." The insomniac "realized he was either at the beginning or at the end of a very powerful story." An intellectual, fresh from an adulterous week while in the States for an economic conference, comes home expecting to catch his wife with her lover, but she is simply gone; so he goes for a run and "no longer knows what he was running from." The senile man finally gets it: He was a truth. "He was the point of an incidental but very clever joke...a vehement reminder that life is easy, that it consists of purest lust, and that it only exists for those who are able to dance and to laugh."

You may have hit on something, your Glück-ness.

message 4: by ·Karen· (new)

·Karen· I'd like to hit on something. Or should that be someone?

Tony How smoothly you shift from the Queen's English to Germanic root words to American colloquialisms!

message 6: by Adam (new)

Adam Haven't tried this one, but the novella "A Tiler's Afternoon" is very good.

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