Illegal immigration and the toll it takes on those brave or desperate enough to undergo it are the subjects of Celina Baljeet Basra’s daring debut novel. Happy, its immensely lovable protagonist, is a young dreamer from India, who longs to become an actor and take the Western film industry by storm. It is his fertile, boundless imagination that powers Happy’s experimental narrative.
Here is a world in which Europe comes to life, taking on the form of a beautiful woman who lures him from his homeland with promises of fame and fortune – only to grow cold and evasive when he arrives on her shores. Put to work by nameless contractors on a radish farm, the posting sees him work backbreaking hours for little money while being housed in a freezing shipping container.
The real power and tragedy of the story, however, comes not from the physical descriptions of his torments, but the slow deterioration of Happy’s psyche as the once irrepressibly positive character begins to lose hope in the possibility of ever living freely in a country that both relies on, and is determined to ignore, his very presence. An eye-opening, sophisticated work, it manages to be both brilliantly funny and intensely heartwrenching as it throws light on the darkest part of our society.
Happy, Celina Baljeet Basra (Wildfire)
Price: £20/£24.99 audiobook. Info: here
words RACHEL REES