I’d seen a bit of a buzz about Happy Families by Julie Ma recently, so I picked up a copy from Sainsbury’s. This debut novel was only published on 18th February this year and picked up Richard and Judy’s Search for a Bestseller 2020 prize.
Happy Families is the story of three generations of a Chinese family living in a small town in Wales. The majority of the story is told by 34-year-old Amy, the daughter. There are also some flashbacks to the 1950s and her mum’s early life.
Amy has returned to live with her grandfather, Ah Goong, in the flat above the Chinese takeaway her family has been running since the 50s. Her parents still work at the takeaway and live in a bungalow nearby. For may years they all lived in the flat together – and her father and grandfather never spoke a word to each other.
When Ah Goong collapses in the street and has to go to hospital, Amy is determined to find out why he doesn’t speak to her father, before it’s too late. But it seems that her family has more than one secret it has been hiding…
This is an enjoyable and very easy to read story. The descriptions of late nights in the takeaway should be familiar to many readers, as should the very British school fete.
Happy Families did actually remind me a bit of Mike Gayle’s All the Lonely People – the previous book I read. Both stories revolved around immigrant families, very old men and a dose of racism. While much of the small Welsh community was welcoming of Ah Goong and his family, and they certainly enjoyed eating their food, the family did experience some racism.
If you are looking for an easy and relaxing read, I can strongly recommend Happy Families. With a lack of violence, sex or swearing, it would also be a good read for young teenagers.