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A young cinephile leaves his rural village in India with big dreams, only to find himself trapped in menial jobs and forced to work off a debt he may never repay.

In a small farming village in Punjab, India, a boy crouches over his brother’s phone in a rapeseed field watching clips of Godard’s Bande à part on YouTube.

His name is Happy Singh Soni and when he’s not sleeping among the cabbages and eating sugary rotis, Happy dreams of becoming an actor, one who plays the melancholy roles; the sad, pretty boys, rare in Indian cinema. He plans a clandestine journey to Europe, where he’ll finally land a breakout role.

After a nightmarish passage to Italy, Happy still manages to find relief in food and fantasy, even as he is forced into ever-worsening work conditions on a radish farm by the syndicate involved in smuggling him to Europe to pay off the supposed debt they claim he has accrued. While disillusionment amongst the farm workers rise, Happy will find the love – and tragedy – that his favourite films always promised.

At turns funny and heart-breaking, sunny and tragic, Happy is a formally ambitious novel about the psychic fissures produced by the splintering of nations, and the lovely, generative, artful coping mechanisms created by generations of diasporic people. With this ingenious, daringly cinematic debut, Celina Baljeet Basra argues for the things that are basic to human survival: food, water, shelter, but also pleasure, romance, art, and the right to a vivid inner life.


Playful, funny, and wildly free, Happy inhabits the seam between beauty and tragedy. A miraculous novel.
MEGHA MAJUMDAR, author of A Burning
A bonkers story that reads like a fine ten-course meal.
GARY SHTEYNGART, author of Our Country Friends
With an innovative form that is simultaneously playful and profound, Celina Baljeet Basra's HAPPY is outstanding! From the first to the final pages, I was completely charmed by Happy and his crew as they made their treacherous journey towards dreams of a better life. Using wry humour to deliver a dead serious message with laser-sharp lightness, Basra gives depth and definition to the unjust and inhumane conditions facing many migrants and undocumented workers. Read this book.
MELISSA FU, author of Peach Blossom Spring
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.
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
First-time novelist Basra delivers a damning indictment of capitalism, a system that swallows the global poor whole and spits out wasted humans. At the same time, Basra maintains a light touch; the novel wears its burdens with good humor.
Poornima Apte, Booklist (Starred Review)
Happy presents: his world. A fragmented, kaleidoscopic whiz in-keeping with his dreamy, ever-optimistic outlook. Hardships are presented starkly but with humour, the worst of which we are spared in the moment by his glancing away, taking refuge in his own fantasies of superstardom. Immigration, drug abuse, gentrification, racism and death, Happy lives them fully until the book's surprising denoument. A fantastic little gem of a book.
CHIKODILI EMELUMADU, author of Dazzling