MARCH 2013
Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida


Book Reviews By NITISH S. RELE,

The Illicit Happiness of Other People” (344 pages; $15.95 paperback original) by Manu Joseph; published by W.W. Norton & Co. (

Illicit Happiness of Other People“In this world, you cannot escape happiness.”

“We laugh because humor assaults us with a slice of truth and we sense danger.”

Such one-liners pack the second book by Joseph (after “Serious Men”) about the Chacko family set in 1980s Madras. The father and journalist Ousep Chacko is an alcoholic; mother Mariamma fantasizes about killing her worthless husband; and their 12-year old, confidence-lacking son Thoma. The trio has been struggling for three years over the death of the Chackos’ older son, budding cartoonist Unni, who mysteriously fell from their residential balcony. One day, the post office delivers a comic written by Unni that had been lost in the mail. This wakes up Ousep out of his stupor and he begins a suicide investigation. This takes him on a long but interesting journey where he meets up with eccentric characters, including his son’s classmates, a former teacher and a neuropsychiatrist. He finds out that Unni could read minds. Author Joseph tells us an engrossing tale while tackling the issues of spirituality as well as the secret lives of the ones closest to us. You don’t want to miss this gripping book, which was released just last month.

Life Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel owners and the American DreamLife Behind the Lobby: Indian American Motel owners and the American Dream” (254 pages; $24.95) by Pawan Dingra; published by Stanford University Press (

That Indian Americans own nearly half of the motels in the United States shouldn’t come as a surprise to most readers. And that majority of the motel owners are originally from Gujarat and 70 percent have the last name Patel isn’t much of a revelation either. An associate professor of sociology at Oberlin College in Ohio, author Dingra conducted more than 100 interviews with motel owners, observing their families at work, over a period of several years to research in detail the grand story of entrepreneurship, the American dream and exceptionalism. The question he poses: Are the achievements of motel owners’ proof of acceptance and openness of an American society or are their battles with race or culture evidence that discrimination and inequity continue to exist? Be forewarned, the sociology/immigration studies book is a reference work and not your typical beach read. As someone put it quite rightly, “This is a people’s sociology of hotel work.” Indeed.


Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan” (368 pages; $27.95) by Rajiv Chandrasekaran; published by Alfred A. Knopf (

By the end of 2014, the United States will be quitting Afghanistan for good, leaving behind a few military personnel in advisory role. Ever since the infamous surge in 2010, the battle to fight the Taliban has been filled with wrangling and ineptitude within the American government itself. During his trip to cover the failed war, Chandrasekaran stumbled upon numerous disputes and failed assurances. In short, it was total chaos. The well-documented coverage will leave the reader with an uneasy feeling about a war that has haunted the U.S. and its allies since 2001. Will the U.S. learn from its mistakes? Only time will tell. But kudos goes to Chandrasekaran for throwing light on the military-diplomatic fight.

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