“Secrets of Happiness” by Joan Silber

Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber

Our May 2021 Book of the Month

I must start by giving the disclaimer that I am friends with Paula McLain and believe that her success as a historical fiction writer is due not just to her ability to get inside the stories of incredible women but because she herself is one. Paula is a survivor that is not only talented but works hard, enjoys life and has a kind heart. The women she writes about live in misogynistic worlds but have ambitions, loves and passions that draw us all in as readers. Martha Gellhorn, the independent woman in her latest novel Love and Ruin, may be historically famous due to her relationship and marriage to Ernest Hemingway but she is a professional writer and journalist with her own voice.

As our May book of the month McLain’s Love and Ruin is a great read with not only historical significance but a novel that is very relevant in our world today. A time where women are wrestling with ambition and their place in the world and where war and journalism are issues surrounding us on a daily basis. This book is also a perfect selection for groups looking for a classic pairing to read over the summer. Paula McLain personally recommends reading as a companion Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn and for those interested in the novel Ernest Hemingway was working on during their time together, it could be paired also with For Whom the Bell TollsI love the epigraph Paula chose from For Whom the Bell Tolls, as it resonates throughout Love and Ruin and in my own life as well:

“There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that?” –  Ernest Hemingway


Ethan, a young lawyer in New York, learns that his father has long kept a second family — a Thai wife and two kids living in Queens. In the aftermath of this revelation, Ethan’s mother spends a year working abroad, returning much changed, as events introduce her to the other wife. Across town, Ethan’s half brothers are caught in their own complicated journeys: one brother’s penchant for minor delinquency has escalated, and the other must travel to Bangkok to bail him out, while the bargains their mother has struck about love and money continue to shape their lives.

As Ethan finds himself caught in a love triangle of his own, the interwoven fates of these two households elegantly unfurl to encompass a woman rallying to help an ill brother with an unreliable lover and a filmmaker with a girlhood spent in Nepal. Evoking a generous and humane spirit, and a story that ranges over three continents, Secrets of Happiness elucidates the ways people marshal the resources at hand to forge their own forms of joy.


Joan Silber is the author of nine books of fiction. The most recent is Secrets of Happiness. Her novel, Improvement, won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. She also received the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. Her previous book, Fools, was longlisted for the National Book Award and a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. The Size of the World was a finalist for the LA Times Fiction Prize, and Ideas of Heaven was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Story Prize. She is also the author of The Art of Time in Fiction. She lives in New York, taught for many years at Sarah Lawrence College, and teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program.

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