Yasmina Reza translated from the French by John Cullen

Happy Are the Happy

Happy Are The Happy

Publication Date: Jan 27, 2015

160 pp


List Price US $20.00
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8
ISBN: 9781590516928


List Price US $20.00
ISBN: 9781590516935

The internationally acclaimed playwright and novelist Yasmina Reza stages a band of eighteen characters at war with their lives, with only humor to sustain them                                          

Happy are the loved ones and the lovers and those who can do without love. Happy are the happy. —Jorge Luis Borges

Schnitzler’s La Ronde gives these twenty short chapters their shape while Borges’s poem gives them their content. As we move from story to story, thrilled to reconnect with an old acquaintance from an earlier scene, we can’t help but admit that we are very much at home in this human comedy that understands all too well the passing thoughts, desires, actions, fears, and mistakes that we have and make day after day, but that we would be incapable of rendering with such acuity and compassion.

Excerpt from Happy Are the Happy

We were at the supermarket, shopping for the weekend. At some point she said, you go stand in the cheese line while I get the rest of the groceries. When I came back, the shopping cart was half filled with boxes of cereal and bags of cookies and packets of powdered food and other desserts. I said, what’s all this for? —What do you mean, what’s all this for? I said, what’s the point of buying all this? —You have children, Robert. They like Chocolate Cruesli, they like Napolitains, they adore Kinder Bueno bars. She displayed the various packages. It’s ridiculous to gorge those kids on sugar and fat, I said. This cart is ridiculous. She said, what kind of cheese did you buy? —A Crottin de Chavignol and a Morbier. And no Gruyère? she cried out. —I forgot and I’m not going back, the line’s too long. —If there’s one kind of cheese you have to buy, you know very well it’s Gruyère, who eats Morbier in our house? Who? I do, I said. —Since when do you eat Morbier? Who wants to eat Morbier? Odile, stop it, I said. —Who likes this Morbier crap? (Implicit meaning: besides your mother, who’d recently found a nut, a metal nut, in a chunk of Morbier.) I said, Odile, you’re shouting. She gave the cart a jerk and threw three Milka chocolate bars into it. I picked them up and replaced them on the shelf. She flung the bars back into the cart even faster than before. I said, I’m out of here. She answered, get out, get out, I’m out of here is all you know how to say, it’s your sole response. As soon as you run out of arguments, you say I’m out of here, you immediately resort to this grotesque threat. It’s true, I admit it, I often say I’m out of here, I’m aware I say it, but I don’t see how I can not say it when it’s the only thing I want to say, when I see no way out other than immediate withdrawal, but I also realize, yes, that I put it in the form of an ultimatum. Well, you’re finished shopping, I say to Odile, propelling the shopping cart forward. Or do we have some more stupid shit to buy?


“Like a handful of the 18 people who populate her latest novel, Happy Are the Happy, Yasmina Reza is formidably accomplished…Happy are the Happy is another coup, a quick and delicate book that’s as funny as it is humane….Characters chime with one another in ways they never realize, a conviviality that is bittersweet.  Their voices are self-aware, a little jaundiced, vulnerable, sometimes plaintive, and entirely authentic…Reza is attuned to intensity and banality in equal measure… ‘Even if you demolish me,’ Nicolas Sarkozy supposedly told Reza, … ‘you will elevate me’: a ventriloquism that encapsulates her method and her gift.” —The New York Times Book Review 

“The characters in these 21 brief, bittersweet and playfully interconnected stories by the French playwright Yasmina Reza (“God of Carnage”) hold tight to philosophies about love…[Reza] fills the stories, most of them six to eight pages long, with efficient detail, making them feel, perhaps unsurprisingly, like a series of vibrant one-acts.” —The New York Times 

“[Reza] is a caustic and witty observer of social behavior…[Happy Are the Happy] is a collection of first-person monologues by eighteen French people whose lives intersect with friendships and rivalries, a ronde, funny but sad, saturated with the longings and competitiveness implied by the broad term “jealousy,” and just enough tantalizing whiffs of the roman à clef, involving French political figures, to remind us of the potency of this emotion in real life all the time.” —The New York Review of Books

“The twenty-one interconnected monologues in this meditation on parenting, death, and relations between the sexes manage to make domestic trifles seem electrifying. With implacable wit and a dramatist’s sense of timing, Reza offers snapshots from the psyches of eighteen characters, including a couple who squabble over Morbier cheese and stuffed hamsters, and a retired financier and statesman who taunts his exasperated wife with instructions for his funeral. The tone is wry, warm, and accepting.” —The New Yorker

“[A] spirited novel…To read Happy Are the Happy is to feel happier after closing the book than one was before opening it. Ms. Reza…writes in an assured, economical manner. She can lead her lifelike, not always likable, characters from the need for enslavement to the desire for freedom in a few deft strokes.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Reza is a terrific observer of the rhythms of people and relationships. Her writing is amusing and insightful. With Happy are the Happy, Reza has pulled off something both unexpected and magical in a very small book that packs a real punch.” —NPR.org

“A galère of marital bad behavior—infidelity, a brawl at a cheese counter—can be found in Yasmina Reza’s blisteringly funny Happy are the Happy.” —Vogue

“[Reza’s] new novel may mark a sea change, in part due to the risky intimacy of its subject: love…Bookended by Odile and Robert’s story, which moves from their children’s bedroom to the bridge from which they scatter the ashes of Odile’s father, these delicate, odd-cornered miniatures of human isolation and connection take on a cumulative power…the real discovery here is how the novel’s interiority showcases her aphoristic style. The novel is filled with zingers.” —Vogue.com

“Yasmina Reza’s specialty specialty is the excavation of long-simmering violence from underneath
placid bourgeois surfaces. [Happy are the Happy] is at once touching and prickly, coldly elegant and exuberantly warm.” —The Jewish Daily Forward

“Compelling.” —Kirkus Reviews

“With sharp insight, Reza quickly penetrates the thoughts and actions of [her] characters to reveal just how happy (or not) they really are…Charming…delightful, witty.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“Reza’s stories build and build, creating a complicated, multifaceted world.” —Publishers Weekly

“Reza [is] ever the sharp observer of human interaction.” —Christian Science Monitor Online

“Yasmina Reza’s achievements in Happy Are the Happy are considerable. Happy Are the Happy is an evocative little book, one that spears the narcissistic vicissitudes that dominate the minds of an educated, professional class. It will seduce you with its wit, and it will require you to think hard with it about language, that damning and defining material of our lives.” Bookslut

“[E]ntertaining…Reza, through her characters, offers insightful comments on the nature of romantic entanglements.” Bookreporter.com

“A title such as this cries out for an ironic exegesisand in her latest novel, Yasmina Reza delivers this magnificently. This is a deft, shrewd, frequently anguished, occasionally hilarious investigation into the endless way in which we make ourselves miserable.” The Times Literary Supplement

“[Happy are the Happy] confirms Reza as a sharply observant wit.” —The Independent

“Reza…creates moments of intense drama, exhibiting the tensions and conflicts crackling through lives. The author skilfully peels away the veneer of life to reveal the secrets seething within.” —The Guardian

“[Reza] has a superpower for zeroing in on each beat of an argument, each buried emotion.” —The Times (UK)

“Yasmina Reza has set herself a challenge in her latest novel, and she rises to it beautifully.” —The Economist

Happy are the Happy is a spiky, brilliantly observed novel about marriage, infidelity, dreams and disillusion.” —The Telegraph

“Reza has form for nailing relationships in all their joy and ugliness. But she does so with the lightest, sharpest skewer imaginable.” —HarpersBazaar.co.uk

“Bittersweet, yet beautiful to read.” —Daily Mail (UK)

“Poetically and thoughtfully penned.” —Irish Times

“[Yasmina Reza’s] power lies in acute observation, in her ability to weave together short, decisive tales that infiltrate our outer defenses to reveal the fragility we keep hidden underneath, safely tucked away, just out of view from those around us.” —Typographical Era

“I’m told that it’s common to dream about discovering in one’s own apartment hitherto unknown rooms, that it’s a way of imagining a solution to a situation that feels impossible. This collection of short fictions by the brilliant Yasmina Reza reminds me of those dreamed of rooms, hidden away somewhere within our own ordinary houses, giving us space to understand what feels too forbidden, or too sad, or too weird. This is a funny and wonderful and wise book.” —Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances and American Innovations

“Few playwrights succeed at fiction, with the notable exception of Chekov, and in this novel, Yasmina Reza resembles him. Her prose strikes the same balance between tenderness and acuity, irony and sorrow, worldliness and the courage to feel deeply. Everyone’s domestic life, she suggests, is a tragicomic shipwreck—but this beautiful book consoles you for your own.” —Judith Thurman, author of Cleopatra’s Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire

“If I could do exactly what I want to do, I’d read [Happy are the Happy] again. The structure alone is a marvel, the way the author weaves people and connections into the monologues so that relationships and ironies and tensions slowly become apparent. The resonance increases from page to page. The prose is full of memorable, incisive passages, little observations that ring true, fleeting moments of quiet desperation. And the recourse to laughter, because what else is there, informs the whole. The best literature makes you feel bad and good at the same time, and that’s what happens here. It’s really an accomplished piece of work.” —John Cullen

“With penetrating wit, Yasmina Reza tells a tale of how the harmony of human relationships is constantly under threat.”
—Romain Leick, Der Spiegel

“In Happy Are the Happy, Yasmina Reza tackles existential questions with a light, sparkling touch.” —Het Parool

“In the confrontation with life and whatever comes after it, only comedy offers freedom. This truth provides the framework of Reza’s oeuvre, and she experiments with it better than anyone else, in language of immense tact and shattering sensitivity. Happy Are the Happy is her most beautiful text, her great novel of human consternation.” —Jean Birnbaum, Le Monde des Livres

“At once funny and tragic, Happy Are the Happy scans the spectrum of contemporary neurosis and exposes where it truly hurts.” —Thierry Gandillot, Les Échos

“Reza describes her toxic couples with detachment and surgical precision, and with an infallible sense of dialogue.” —Fabrizio Coscia, Il Mattino

“Happy Are the Happy is fabulous—sheer pleasure from beginning to end. I will forever remember Vincent Zawada’s impossible Maman, who holds court at the radiation clinic and banters with her (gay) oncologist (‘Do you have children, Doctor? No children, he said. I said, you want me to show you how it’s done?’) and nineteen year-old Jacob Hutner, who first adores and eventually believes that he is Céline Dion.” —Elizabeth Alexander, University Book Store

“The characters in Yasmina Reza’s Happy are the Happy speak to our fears about the constant perils of domestic life. However, the book is not sanctimonious and thanks to Reza’s humor and humanism we become attached and identify with her characters. I wish the book was twice as long.” —Sam Jaffe-Goldstein, Community Bookstore (Brooklyn, NY)

“In Happy are the Happy, Yasmina Reza offers first-person snapshots of the intricate and emotionally wrought lives of her characters, unveiling the secrets, fears, and yearnings of characters who readers can easily imagine as real people. With interwoven humor and tragedy, Reza explores the complexity of thought, motivation, and betrayal within our daily lives, answering every hard question she raises with frankness and humanity.” —Grace Gordon, Big Blue Marble Bookstore (Philadelphia, PA)

“In Happy Are The Happy, Yasmina Reza crafts a story from the points of view of eighteen less-than-happy people as their lives intersect. This is a stellar novel, a book to savor and talk about, one that causes us to examine who we are as we read it. After finishing, I immediately passed my copy on to one of my co-booksellers.” —Caitlin Luce Baker, University Bookstore (Seattle, WA)

“Renowned French playwright Yasmina Reza flirts with the boundaries of love and genre in her newest novel Happy Are the Happy.  Based on an aphoristic poem by Jorge Luis Borges, each of the novel’s 20 short chapters is narrated from the perspective of a different character, each with their own theory and adage of love. The characters’ domestic and sex lives intermingle in a sometimes humorous and distinctly French fashion, morphing betrayal into a form of affection and vice versa.  This beautiful, sharp and compassionate book is an honest and creative exploration of the foibles of love just in time for the dreaded Valentine’s Day.” —Mandy Medley, Unabridged Bookstore (Chicago, IL)

1. Each of the eighteen linked stories in Happy Are the Happy is told in the first person. How does this affect your reading of the work as a whole and your understanding of each of the characters’ perspectives?

2. Vincent Zawada’s mother and Jean Ehrenfried both have cancer. Do you think their disease works well as a metaphor for the dysfunctions that plague the novel’s couples and the larger society they inhabit? Explain.

3. How is Odile Toscano different from the other women in the novel? Compare her marriage to Robert with the Hutners’ marriage. Do you believe the Hutners’ marriage is healthier and better able to handle crises?

4. Robert Toscano claims “Women will seize any opportunity to deflate you, they love reminding you how much of a disappointment you are” (p 5). Paola Suares states, “Men are totally immobile creatures. We women are the ones who create movement. We wear ourselves out invigorating love” (pp 39–40). What do you make of how the men and women in the novel describe themselves and each other in terms of gender? Do you think any of the male characters in the novel are misogynists?

5. Philip Chemla is arguably the most well-regarded character in the novel, yet he is the most dejected, and the one living a secret life radically divorced from his public persona. Are there other examples of this kind of dissonance in Happy Are the Happy?

6. Marguerite Blot, Pascaline Hutner, and Rémi Globe all use the word “abandonment” (pp 13, 31, 81). How is the way that each one uses the word different from the others? Do you think the fear of abandonment is at the root of many of the problems the characters in the novel face? Marguerite makes a distinction between the words “abandonment” and “left” (p 13). In the novel, are there characters who are abandoned, and those who are left?

7. On page 39 Paola Saures is disgusted when Luc Condamine sniggers at her story of “a man who suffer[s] from solitude.” Does the novel itself, in exposing the absurdity inherent in relationships, make us as readers complicit in Luc’s callousness?

8. On page 85 Chantal Audouin declares, “Couples disgust me. Their hypocrisy. Their smugness.” Is this the sentiment espoused by the novel? Does Happy Are the Happy offer any hope for couples, or for popular conceptions of romance?