Stories of Happy People
by Lars Gustafsson
What is happiness in an age of packaged needs and liberated desires? Lars Gustafsson’s Stories of Happy People is a collection of ten short fictions that maps the range of contentment, from inner joy to the edges of despair. “Uncle Sven and the Cultural Revolution” finds a politically indifferent Swedish research engineer, in Mao’s China as an industrial consultant, surprised by his own imagination. “The Four Railroads of Iserlohn” lead to poignant, illusionary journeyings. The half-felt yearnings of displaced intellectuals, trying to break out of the stasis of their existence, are explored in “The Art of Surviving November,” “What Does Not Kill Us, Tends to Make Us Stronger,” and “The Fugitives Discover That They Knew Nothing.” “A Water Story” is a sketch of the elusive staying power of love. The protected, private universes of the mentally retarded, the insane, and the senile are opened to view in “Greatness Strikes Where It Pleases,” “The Bird in the Breast,” and “Out of the Pain.” In all of these stories, Gustafsson, one of Sweden’s leading men of letters and philosophical writer par excellence, places lives of seeming smallness within the wider context of the culture and history of our hapless era.