Nestled in the suburbs of Atlanta, a family learns the funniest punchlines can hide the hardest truths in this evocative women’s fiction novel from the author of Well-Behaved Indian Women.
From the outside, the Joshi family is the quintessential Indian-American family. Decades ago, Bina and Deepak immigrated to America, where she became a pillar of their local Indian community and he, a successful psychiatrist. Their eldest daughter, Suhani, is following the footsteps of her father’s career and happily married. Natasha, their middle daughter, is about to become engaged to the son of longtime family friends. And Anuj, their son—well he’s a son and what could be better than that?
But a family scandal shows that nothing is as it seems. Bina’s oldest friendship starts to unravel and she finds herself as an outsider in the community she helped build. Suhani discovers that her perfect marriage isn’t as solid as she thought. Natasha faces a series of rejections that send her into a downward spiral.
As they encounter public humiliation, gossiping aunties, and self-doubt, the Joshi family must rely on each other like never before. But sometimes, family has to fall apart in order to come back stronger than before.
What a Happy Family centers on the Joshis, an Indian American family living in Atlanta, and explores how our family dynamics play a role in our decisions and who we become. With every member of the Joshi family hiding something from someone else, they quickly learn that keeping up appearances is exhausting, particularly when it’s your own family. Tender and sweet and wise, just like Saumya Dave’s first, Well-Behaved Indian Women.
3.5 stars. For the first half this book is familiar, a multi-perspective look at a modern family where the parents are immigrants who have built a successful life but the children are starting to flounder. What makes this book really different is that it has a very specific idea of how this dynamic is unhealthy but also how it can be repaired.
To be honest, in a way this reminded me of a romance novel. In a romance novel part of the joy comes from watching people not only get into a relationship but solve whatever barriers they run into along the way. At the end you know they are happy together. In a lot of books about family, you see the dynamic and then the dynamic either doesn't change, or it changes only in small ways. But in this book, you get to not only see what the dynamic is, you get to be there as the family works on taking significant steps to resolve it. You get to *go through family therapy* with them. It can be a wild kind of wish fulfillment read, getting to see all the both loving and harmful things everyone does, having them confront what they've done wrong, appreciate what they've done right, and move forward together. I am trying to think of the last time I read a novel that did that and... I am coming up blank.
I talk about it as wish fulfillment because I do think it gets a bit oversimplified and resolves a bit quickly. I think there could have been a longer journey there and I think it could have started earlier. The balance of the book is a bit off. It wasn't until I was almost done that I realized that it's really about the resolution more than the problem. And that's a good thing, I wish it had leaned into it a little more. It certainly differentiates it from the pack.
The family here makes so much sense, you just sink right into it. It's not hard to see how the different personalities and relationships have come together. Really my biggest quibble is that I didn't entirely buy Natasha. Some things about her just didn't totally make sense to me, and she's the central character if there is one. She wants a career in comedy, she has apparently done all this research, but she also thinks that what will be basically her first time doing real stand up is going to open up doors when comedy is the longest of slogs felt weird. I also couldn't ever imagine her relationship with Karan, he seems far too boring for her, especially for so many years. I also (sorry) did not find her funny, which made the comedy segments of the book fall flat. It was a bummer because there are many other parts of her that were really grounded and relatable, so the ones that didn't quite fit were more noticeable.
Content warnings for depression, attempted suicide, abortion, and domestic abuse.
Five shining stars for this touching portrait of an Indian-American family living in Atlanta and all coming to terms with what their family history and individual experiences within the unit of their family means for them and for their mental well-being. Saumya Dave brings her personal experience as a psychiatrist to the table and the execution of what could have been a monumental task is nearly flawless.
Suhani, Natasha and Anuj are the American children of Indian immigrants Deepak, a psychiatrist like his oldest daughter Suhani, and Bina, a former Bollywood actress with a promising career cut short and a prominent member of her local Desi community in Atlanta, Georgia. The three children have all faced different pressures from different aspects of their parents and surrounding community.
Suhani, a psychiatrist herself in line to become the next Chief of Residency at her hospital because of her meticulous work, expects herself to be perfect because she perceives that everyone around her also has that expectation; she nearly is, but her seemingly perfect new marriage to Zach finds itself teetering from its balance when a former boyfriend returns to her orbit and brings back painful memories. It's not always easy to keep up appearances and live up to expectations when you close yourself off and struggle to be honest even with yourself.
Natasha has always been the wild card in the family. Gregarious and bold, she marches to the beat of her own drum. But that marching sometimes causes damage to others, who see her path to stand-up comedy as questionable and even sometimes destructive. When a series of blows in her life leads her to a crucial outcry for help with her mental health, the whole family must come to grips with their own experiences, especially her mother Bina.
We don't get much information on Anuj and Deepak, but they are still an important element of this family dynamic. Anuj has always been considered the easy-going, "chill" child in the family, but he struggles with internal pressures of his own and goes to school at a distance to become his own person. Deepak may be an excellent psychiatrist, but has he failed to see the mental health challenges within his own family? We also get a chapter from Zach, Suhani's husband, regarding his love for her and frustration with the barrier she implements between them within the marriage. I thought all three chapters were a great addition, but would have enjoyed seeing even more perspective from the men in this story.
But for me, the real star of the show was Bina. I thought getting her perspective in the book made it so much more interesting. So often in family dramas the parents are to blame for everything and their perspective and experience, especially as middle-aged members of the unit, are often overlooked. That was not the case here. I loved Bina so much even though in initial chapters told from the perspective of her children I thought I would not. Her struggles were so real and the pressures put on her by her culture, society, and experience as an immigrant made for such an interesting character. I thought she was an amazingly strong woman and would love to go to one of her coveted Chats Over Chai meetings!
Altogether this was an amazing exploration of family dynamics and their impact on mental health. I think it was such an important topic to choose because of the stigma so many immigrant communities and particularly South Asian communities face in coping with mental health challenges. I felt so wrapped up in this family and their experiences that I almost feel like I could visit them in reality and know them as my own family. It was so well written, and in contrast to many reviewers here I really enjoyed the pop culture references and thought it made this contemporary family drama feel that much more rooted in the present reality. It really reminded me of The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, so if you enjoyed that definitely pick this one up. Can't recommend this enough.
This book was everything I ever wanted. I don’t think I’ve ever been this connected and seen by a book before. I’m so grateful to have received an arc of this book because I could talk about it all day long and will be raving it about it until and after its release. To dive into the contents, this is a story about a family that each have their own personal problems whether that’s in their careers, mental health, relationships, etc. It’s told from a multi-person perspective which I as a reader love because I enjoy getting to be in the heads of everyone and see the depth of why they act the way they do.
My favorite character was of course Suhani. She’s the epitome of who I want to be. Up until recently I had actually not read or seen a lot of Indian women going into the field of medicine because they actually wanted to rather than their parents just telling them they should. Anyways, I felt like Suhani was a reflection of myself and her relationship with Natasha, her sister, definitely had some similarities to my sister and I’s relationship. Besides the wonderful cast of characters, I thought the writing style was easy to read without being juvenile which is an aspect that I was looking for in a South Asian adult fiction book. I found that many SA adult fiction books had characters or contained writing that came across as juvenile which is just difficult for me to relate to because of how I was raised and the independence I’ve had from an early age.
I was completely sucked into this family drama and dynamic from the very beginning. Additionally, the way in which South Asian culture was depicted and appreciated, while still breaking down why some of the old fashioned thinking and traditions are problematic was done so well! I think the tension and emotions tied to what happens as an effect of these traditions were quite realistic. I myself have felt so much internalized pressure being the child of an immigrant and as I mentioned, this book understood me.
Now of course I want to give this book a five stars, however, there were a couple things that led me to lowering it one star (not to say that this book wasn’t amazing because it is and I highly recommend you all pick it up!). First, I know the term shrink was thrown around a lot. I’m not a health care specialist and the author is a psychiatrist, so it could be my interpretation is wrong, but I found that calling a psychiatrist a shrink can be a bit demeaning or oversimplified. I could understand it as a joke between Suhani and her dad, but outside of that it definitely bugged me a little bit. Related to this, in the beginning, Suhani talks with her friend Vanessa on how they sometimes describe people by throwing around clinical labels or terminology such as saying “so and so definitely has some OCD characteristics.” Again, I’m not a psychiatrist, but even as a joke, I find that putting labels, especially clinical labels on people can be really detrimental to the way people see or value themselves. I’m not sure if it meant to come across that way, but that was just my own thoughts.
Aside from that, the only other thing that I didn’t really care for in the book was Natasha’s comedy. I really tried to not be so quick to judge like Suhani had, but certain things are so hard for me to change. This is more of a personal thing, but comedians who use their culture in almost a negative context can give other people, specifically white people the opportunity to continue to stereotype South Asian people. I know it’s not our job as South Asians to have to filter ourselves for the sake of others, and I’m not sure if it’s because of my own personal experiences, but making jokes about South Asian culture and mental health hits a little too close to home and makes me uncomfortable. I know humor can be a coping mechanism for many so I totally understand where Natasha was coming from, but it just wasn’t for me. I actually thought she could be a better motivational/public speaker than comedian. Anyways, that’s besides the point. I’m going to wrap it up by saying that this book is incredibly special and I’m so excited to gush about it with my South Asian friends.
What a Happy Family delves deep into the emotions of family struggles, mental health, happiness, and the importance of communication. A beautiful and wonderfully written book told from different POVs, Dave’s poignant and true-to-life story pulls on the heartstrings with warmth, compassion, and humor. Each character comes to life and, ultimately, grows. I even found myself growing with them.
I’ve really been enjoying books that revolve around the complex dynamics of Indian families that are especially centered around young Indian females. This book was a great quick read, with a lot of masala(spice) and a lot of relatable scenarios, about immigrant life in the US, managing expectations in Indian families, gendered identities in modern and traditional households, relationships, love, marriage across generations and a big emphasis on therapy and mental health.
It was interesting to see how every character was very self aware, open to criticism, and had a lot of clarity in thought. But I also docked off a star because of this very reason. Even though the father and daughter were both therapists in the family, it was idealistic to see Indian families communicate and think with such self-awareness, clarity and empathy. The book made a really good case for group and family therapy but it felt rushed. Also docked off points for happy endings for all the characters. But all in all a fun weekend read!
I'm quite conflicted when writing this review, thus a slightly generous rating. While written in the same vein as Well-Behaved Indian Women, I really wanted to enjoy it just as much. Unfortunately, Dave seems to show perspectives of all six family members quite flippantly, without giving them too much depth. The second half focuses more on the mental health aspect of the characters which is wonderfully redeeming, and where she gives us more depth and insight into the Joshi family, especially Natasha, and the South Asian stigmatization around therapy and issues surrounding mental health. However, character development seems to be made out of convenience rather than out of any actual growth. Lots of unnecessary pop culture references. Seems like a hasty effort to release a book overall; would recommend WBIW more.
I first became a fan of this talented author after reading her debut, Well-behaved Indian Women, and I was excited to dive headfirst into her latest work. As a daughter of Indian immigrants, I felt so much of myself and my family reflected on the page. More than once I found myself thinking, "That is exactly something my mom would say!" or "Ohmigosh, I have an aunt who is just like that!" The cultural nuances and insights into inter-generational conflict and family dynamics are what makes this book so special. There's humour effortlessly mingled with more serious issues and it never feels either heavy handed or glib. Highly recommended!
Dave's follow-up to her first novel, Well-Behaved Indian Women is an absorbing drama that examines the dynamics of the Joshi family, mental health, and what it means to truly belong.
Bina and Deepak Joshi came to America to start over and welcome new opportunities into their lives. Bina ia a little resentful of leaving a flourishing acting career but settles into her role as the matriarch of the household-settle being being the operative word-as she supports Deepak's journey to becoming a psychiatrist in America.
Suhani is their oldest child. She's beautiful, accomplished, and seemingly perfect and has followed in her father's footsteps as a psychiatrist. However, a dark secret from her past emerges, threatening to derail her marriage and her career.
Natasha is the middle, so-called "problem" child. She is determined to not follow a traditional path and decides to reject a marriage proposal from a long-time boyfriend and quit her current job, in order to pursue her passion for stand-up comedy. However, her mental health becomes strained by the fall-out and Natasha is forced to reckon with past demons.
Anuj, the youngest, is the golden boy. His quiet confidence and easy-going nature however, mask other insecurities that rise to the surface.
The Joshi family must delve into the past and examine long-buried secrets if they are truly to help each other and heal as a family.
I was riveted by this family drama. The characters were vibrant and so relatable, making this a perfect exploration of the joys and imperfections of family.. I highly recommend!
I really enjoyed this messy Indian American multigenerational family story featuring the Joshis of Atlanta. Told in alternating perspectives among the three grown Joshi siblings and their parents, we get to know their secrets, fears and struggles as they try to live up to entrenched cultural expectations.
Eldest daughter Sunhani, is following in her father's footsteps but an ex's return brings up secrets from her past and threatens her marriage.
Middle daughter Natasha has had enough with trying to please her family, refusing her childhood boyfriend's proposal of marriage in order to pursue her stand up comedy dreams.
Youngest son Anuj seemingly has a charmed life but being the 'good son' is a burden all its own.
Matriarch, Bina's story was my favorite, where she organizes a chai and chat social for women in her community to discuss the problems that often go unspoken. She even ends up turning into a bit of a social media influencer.
Great on audio narrated by Soneela Nankani and highly recommended for fans of Sonali Dev, Sara Desai, Annika Sharma or Sajni Patel. This book also has excellent mental health rep, focusing on the stigma of seeking therapy or admitting to any kind of mental illness among members of South Asian families, and in particular medical professionals.
So… this one I have mixed feelings about it. When first starting reading this one it did not catch my attention. I didn’t connect with the characters and I ended up having to get the audiobook and listen to it. After starting the audiobook, it began to click for me.
While I didn’t care much for the actual storyline/characters, I did love the message. -I loved the call and focus on mental health -I loved how the book showed how mental health affects different people differently -I loved how it shows how mental health can be generational as well as personal -I loved how it shows that communication is key
In this story, I think that things may have had a different outcome had the family had more deeper conversations rather than surface level ones. It showed how people suffer internally and are most times scared to speak or more so closed off on what they are feeling or dealing with.
While I may not have fully connected with the characters, I definitely connected to the message it gave. By the end, I did enjoy the book when things all came together. I was able to see and feel the characters where as in the beginning I could not.
All in all, Check on your friends, family and yourselves. You never know when someone may need you if you’re not checking in! Also, don’t bottle up your feelings. I know it can be easy to do, but know that it’s best to talk it out!
I've never related to a book so deeply. I want my whole family to read it. The author is a psychiatrist so she really nailed it with the analyses of Indian family pressure and expectations and relationships.
Ah!!! I'm so grateful to the author for writing this book. It was a very cathartic reading experience.
This South Asian family drama is about Bina and Deepak, who are Indian immigrants living in America and have three children: Suhani, Natasha and Anuj. The story is narrated from multiple POVs: Bina, Suhani, who is a psychiatrist like her father and had an interracial marriage with Zack, and Natasha, who wants to be a stand up comedian.
I feel a lot of South Asian families may be able to relate to this story. Being a middle child myself, Natasha’s character resonated the most with me - her wanting to following a non-traditional creative career path and her relationship dynamics with each of the family members.
I appreciated the discussion of the stigma of mental health in South Asian communities and loved all the pop culture references!
I'm very disappointed in this book, since "Well-Behaved Indian Women" was my favorite book of 2020. I will be fair and give both positives and negative below.
PROS: - good descriptions of Gujarati family dynamics, and appropriate cultural references - interesting descriptions of Group/Family Therapy. The author clearly has experience with this - Suhani and Roshan have a super interesting dynamic that I wish was explored further. Suhani is (in my opinion), the most interesting character
CONS: - this book is the epitome of "Telling, not showing." We are told a lot of things about the characters directly rather than organically learning those ideas through the characters' actions - too many characters. The core family is well-fleshed out, but the millions of aunties seem unnecessary and take time away from further developing the main characters - The constant references to celebrities are distracting. Some characters look like celebrities (Zack is like Andy Samberg), and others want to be like celebrities (Natasha wants to be Mindy Kaling, etc.). This seems like a crutch rather than having characters with fleshed out descriptions and motivations - Natasha is super unlikable as a protagonist. I understand her struggles but I realize why her family is fed up with her antics. She probably has undiagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder since she has chronic feelings of emptiness, mood swings, unstable relationships, etc. - The Roshan plotline seems like it could have been its own book. The issues with domestic violence, pregnancy, etc. are really interesting and are only cursorily mentioned. I would have much preferred a book where Suhani was the protagonist dealing with these issues, and Natasha was an annoying side character - Zack is too "perfect" and it's not believable - The "Chats over Chai" fiasco is so overblown. It's a glorified kitty party group with a bunch of aunties gossiping, and I can't imagine Bipin wasting so much of his precious time on tearing down such an insignificant gathering
I respect what the other tried here, with plotlines about mental health, residency, Indian families, therapy, and other ideas, but it seems too overstuffed for a small novel. I hope the author focuses in on a few key issues and dedicates her next novel to fleshing them out rather than trying to do too much.
I really wanted to love this book. It discusses impactful issues concerning mental health, especially in the SA community and I particularly enjoyed the narrative from the mother which is often ignored in this genre - we always hear the perspective from the children of immigrant parents and how it affects their life but not entire chapters from the parents themselves, especially those who suffer from real issues that are most often neglected or brushed aside in our community (post-partum depression, anxiety, distinctly those in older women). A lot of the wisdom, anecdotes and issues were reminiscent of my life and the people in it (trying to find an identity outside of the house, the pressure on kids of immigrant parents to embrace two cultures) but overall, the content wasn't ground breaking. I've read it all before, just different versions - the only contrast is this novel took tough topics (like attempted suicide, depression and abuse) and didn't try to make it an afterthought like a ton of other books do - the mental health discourse WAS the main narrative and the storylines followed along those lines. The writing was not a style I particularly liked either. The author herself is a psychiatrist and so the writing was very technical/medical but not in a unique or interesting way. It sounded like sentences from CBT worksheets - maybe someone who isn't in the field may be convinced but to me, the symptoms the author lists for each character are so transparently from a psychological screening. It made the characters a bit one dimensional. I also didn't really love the style - I just don't like when each chapter is a different character's perspective. In order to do that, each character has to be STRONG and I didn't think that was the case. Additionally, when you format your book this way, you limit the interactions each character has with each other and the stories feel choppy. Overall, the book was worth reading for its important issues.
"What a Happy Family" follows all of the members of the Joshi family. They're a South Asian family who lives in the suburbs of Atlanta. All of them are going through different things in their lives. The book follows each character as they navigate their own battles and investigates the question, "How do families hurt us, and how can they also heal us?" The author wanted to incorporate mental health in her book, so why not show that through the lens of different family members. It dives into that age-old difficulty we have with family and the question around: How do we keep our family members in specific roles? Instead of seeing them for who they are now, we keep them in the roles they've been in since we grew up. That can make it hard for us to empathize, understand, and connect as they grow and evolve.
I loved this book because it immediately hooked me just by how the author writes. Her writing voice is approachable and light, yet it doesn't poke too much fun at anything. She has a delicate sense of humor without it being over the top. In trying to depict what's specific about her culture, the author has paired light comedy with depth.
“Whether it’s mental illness, burnout, or shame, there is a lot we have been keeping to ourselves. There’s a danger to that over time, putting on a perfect appearance and not really owning the challenges we all experience.”
We need to know that perfection does not exist. Some of us struggle less than others with tasks and goals that seem unreachable. It’s identifying the triggers that cause us to act on our impulses that matter, and knowing when to seek help.
I loved this story and the family who seemed perfect through everyone else’s eyes. They were flawed, everyone of them was struggling with life’s challenges. They hid it well, until Natasha had a breakdown and needed professional help. This incident was an eye opener for all of them. Keeping things inside for so long only causes more things to dangerously grow within us.
I loved this glimpse into the Joshi family's dynamic. I was so drawn in by every family member, from Natasha, wanting to be a stand-up comic, to Suhani, in pursuit of perfection and Bina, the mother. It's a look at mental health issues as seen from an Indian family, even one where there are two psychiatrists. This book is so real and raw, and shows how one family reacts to the things happening to them. I can't recommend this book enough!
I received What a Happy Family as part of a Goodreads giveaway.
The Joshis, an Indian-American immigrant family living in Atlanta, seems to have it all: a successful and comfortable life in a thriving community and three healthy adult children. But appearances can be deceiving. Newlywed Suhani is a successful psychiatry resident, but trouble lurks beneath the surface of her marriage as her past comes back to haunt her in a way that jeopardizes both her personal and professional lives. Middle child Natasha struggles to find her place in the world; always the fish out of water, she rejects a proposal from a family friend and her childhood sweetheart and quits her job to unsuccessfully pursue a career in comedy. Baby of the family Anuj is outwardly easygoing but seeks to find a balance between love for his family and finding his own voice and path in life. Meanwhile, mother Bina must reconcile her turbulent past with the wife and mother she's become, and the woman she wants to be now that her children are grown. When crisis hits, however, the family must face its collective ghosts and rally together to support on of their own.
This was a lovely read, capturing the complex emotions that accompany family dynamics, particularly those of immigrant families. I'm a white woman, so I found it interesting to compare and contrast my own family relationships with those of the Joshi siblings. I liked that the book left some loose ends, as that's how those relationships are--long lasting and never completely resolved. I'll say that at some points the dialogue does feel a little bit like it's addressing the audience rather than representing the way people actually talk, but on the whole it was a really engaging and enlightening read.
I finished this book in a few days - it really drew me in. It covers an Indian immigrant family and their various challenges with mental health, marriage, alternate career choices, parenting, intergenerational influences, culture and family dynamics.
"She hates how much of her identity is tied to being accepted by the people she loves. It reminds her of her first years in America. Back then, Bina spent so much time wondering when she'd finally feel like she belonged. Now, she wishes she could tell her younger self to focus less on wanting to belong with others and more on believing in herself" - Saumya Dave
I will start off by saying @saumyajdave is a very talented author, a psychiatrist and mental health advocate and an incredibly kind person. I have so much respect for her and for the conversations she has started about how there is a place out there for South Asian stories.
This book is introduces us the Joshi family. Bina and Deepak immigrated to America decades ago and have three children: Suhani, Natasha and Anuj. They are well known in the desi community and from the outside seem to be the ideal happy family. But a family scandal ends up revealing just how much each family member is suffering alone and how much they need to heal together as a family.
This book felt like a therapy session. You can tell it's written by someone who is passionate about mental health. The story explores what it's like to be the child of immigrant parents. I found this to be very relatable. There was actually something relatable for me with each of the female characters: Bina exploring the end of long friendships, Suhani's perfectionism and exhaustion in the health care field and Natasha's dream to do what she loves (her story resonated with the writer in me). I feel like any reader can find something to relate to in this story. I love that this book focuses on mental health within South Asian families. I like the way the family was depicted and how the author shows us how important communication is within a family and a community. How being vulnerable can strengthen family ties and save lives.
My favourite characters ended up being Bina and Suhani. I think I related to Suhani the most, but Bina is my Queen. I also really loved Zack. My heart ached for Natasha and every character. They began feeling so real to me, which is a mark of a brilliant author