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Reviews of Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber

Secrets of Happiness

by Joan Silber

Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber X
Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2021, 288 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2022, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Herschbach
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About this Book

Book Summary

When a man discovers his father in New York has long had another, secret, family - a wife and two kids - the interlocking fates of both families lead to surprise loyalties, love triangles, and a reservoir of inner strength.

Ethan, a young lawyer in New York, learns that his father has long kept a second family—a Thai wife and two kids living in Queens. In the aftermath of this revelation, Ethan's mother spends a year working abroad, returning much changed, as events introduce her to the other wife. Across town, Ethan's half brothers are caught in their own complicated journeys: one brother's penchant for minor delinquency has escalated, and the other must travel to Bangkok to bail him out, while the bargains their mother has struck about love and money continue to shape their lives.

As Ethan finds himself caught in a love triangle of his own, the interwoven fates of these two households elegantly unfurl to encompass a woman rallying to help an ill brother with an unreliable lover and a filmmaker with a girlhood spent in Nepal. Evoking a generous and humane spirit, and a story that ranges over three continents, Secrets of Happiness elucidates the ways people marshal the resources at hand to forge their own forms of joy.



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Reviews

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Once a student of the great short story writer Grace Paley, Silber displays a similar talent for conveying the voice of her characters, for weaving together offhand details that capture the texture of their lives. Secrets of Happiness doesn't have the sort of cohesive unity one expects from a book billed as a novel. Although Ethan returns as narrator in the seventh and final chapter, bringing us full circle, by then too many other characters and too many other tangents have intervened to give us any sense of closure. Perhaps that, however, is precisely Silber's point. If the book offers any answer to the question of happiness, it is that we should not expect any grand unifying narratives or crowning revelations...continued

Full Review (727 words)

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Herschbach).

Media Reviews

Literary Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
A new Joan Silber book is always a reason to celebrate. Her latest is the story of a family—two families—exploding after a years-long infidelity comes to light, told in intersecting, polyphonic voices, like a tapestry of those affected.

The Millions, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
This complex, intergenerational novel spans three continents as it reveals the connection between the two families, no longer secret to each other.

Washington Post
These stories unfurl with such verbal verisimilitude that they're like late-night phone calls from old friends. Every imperative page trips along with the wry wisdom of ordinary speech — the illusion of artlessness that only the most artful writers can create.

New York Times
Secrets of Happiness shows what happens when the Silber structure is spread too thin, its linked characters imperfectly calibrated... Capable of ecstasy, this time Silber delivers merely something humane, elegant and wise.

BookPage (starred review)
The complex seesaw of love and finances, both offered and withheld, is explored throughout seven chapters and across four continents. Silber's device—a secondary character from one chapter commanding the narrative in the next—is as effortless as a dragonfly skimming over a pond...Secrets of Happiness also explores the great generosity of love that exists in families, whether we're born into them or choose them. Rarely is a novel of moral ideas so buoyant in spirit or so exquisitely crafted.

Buzzfeed, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
Joan Silber is a masterful writer of multifaceted characters in complex relationship dynamics...Her new novel follows a man harboring a secret—he's leading two lives, part of two families—and the impact of his deception radiates far beyond him.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Silber has her own sly and satisfying system for linked stories, plucking a character from one to helm the next, moving the narrative forward, or sideways, from that person's point of view...These secrets of happiness really will make you happy, at least for a few sweet hours.

Library Journal
Silber moves easily in and out of her characters' heads; the novel is deceptively airy, yet, given a reflective reading, it has an ethical center without the shortcut of easy morality. Silber's fans, and readers who enjoy smart, humane contemporary fiction that doesn't talk down to them, will enjoy this work.

Publishers Weekly
This mesmerizing story of love, lies, and the consequences of betrayal brims with heart and intelligence.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett
Secrets of Happiness unfolds across families and lovers, across time and expectations, across the country and across the world, and the bigger it gets, the more it shows how deeply connected we are. Joan Silber writes with a frankness and freshness that draws the reader closer with every page. It would be impossible to overstate just how good this book is.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

A Brilliant, Ingeniously Plotted Novel That Shows in Story Form What a Small World It Really Is
This book is a novel. I know that because it says so on the cover: "Secrets of Happiness: A Novel." Except it's not a novel. Not really. It's either a very disconnected novel or a closely intertwined collection of short stories. Either ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Sweatshops in Asia

Garment workers rally on anniversary of Rana Plaza collapse In Joan Silber's Secrets of Happiness, Ethan's father, Gil, has a lucrative career in the women's clothing industry, frequently jetting off to parts of Asia to oversee the outsourcing of production. Elsewhere in the book, a character named Bud takes a job with an organization in Cambodia campaigning to improve working conditions in garment factories, reminding us of the flip side of Gil's success—the cheap labor that drives the profits of clothing companies like his.

In a bid to maximize profits, Western fashion retailers began outsourcing in the 1970s, offshoring garment and textile manufacturing to countries with low overhead costs, particularly in Asia. Today, almost 60 percent of the world's textiles and clothing are ...

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Read-Alikes

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