Powerful blend of science fiction, absurdism and alternative-historical realism that aims to destabilise the heteronormative world and expose its underlying rot. Translated by Tiffany Tsao.

Inspired by Simone Weil’s concept of ‘decreation’ and drawing on Batak and Christian cultural elements, in Happy Stories, Mostly Pasaribu puts queer characters in situations and plots conventionally filled by hetero characters.

In one story, a staff member is introduced to their new workplace - a department of Heaven devoted to archiving unanswered prayers. In another, a woman’s attempt to vacation in Vietnam after her gay son commits suicide turns into a nightmarish failed escape. And in a speculative-historical third, a young man finds himself haunted by the tale of a giant living in colonial-era Sumatra.

The 2022 International Booker Prize
Published by
Tilted Axis Press
Publication date

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Norman Erikson Pasaribu

Norman Erikson Pasaribu

About the Author

A writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, Norman Pasaribu was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1990.
More about Norman Erikson Pasaribu
Tiffany Tsao

Tiffany Tsao

About the Translator

Tiffany Tsao translates Indonesian fiction and poetry into English, and also writes fiction.
More about Tiffany Tsao

Norman Erikson Pasaribu on Happy Stories, Mostly

[What first inspired you to write Happy Stories, Mostly?] ‘The time spent with my queer friends laughing over our miseries and crying over our achievements. The lives of our kind-hearted but homophobic moms. Europe’s wooden hands that altered the fabric of our lives. The hetero-patriarchal capitalisms that forced us to keep ‘bettering’ ourselves just so people would tolerate our queer lives. And how our hard-earned happy days could be gone in a flash by a co-worker cosily outing us, by someone in the neighbourhood who saw us with our lover at the mall, or by someone framing us into the monsters that we aren’t. Even without us realising it, all this time, we’ve been standing on this edge of the ravine that I called the Hampir, the Almost, and it would only require a gentle tap to make us fall. Whereas: ‘In a country where queerphobia has zero consequences, how could a queer person build a liveable life?’

Read the full interview here.

What the judges said

‘The bittersweet stories of Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s Happy Stories, Mostly – in a translation by Tiffany Tsao that shimmers and soars – range from the heart-wrenching to the absurd, creating a vibrant mosaic of contemporary Indonesia.’

What the critics said


‘Pasaribu’s debut collection explores the way colonial violence and anti-queer prejudice permeate contemporary culture […] Rendering characters with refreshing nuance and raw honesty, Pasaribu’s is a promising new voice.’

Rosie Milne, Asian Review of Books

‘For its playfulness, its ambition, and the way it builds its sorrow-bricks into stories that confront head-on challenging situations and emotions, this is a collection that deserves to be read and re-read.’

Joanna Acevedo, Foglifter Journal

‘Pasaribu’s writing is self-aware, but more than that, it is tender. Pasaribu has a tremendous empathy for their characters, even as they put them through more and more tribulations and trials—but they are also not afraid to experiment, stretch and manipulate what is possible through writing. It is this freedom, again, which attracts me to their writing, and what should motivate others to enjoy their stories. This is a collection which will lead others to change the way they think, and perhaps, encourage others to live in a happier, kinder world.’

Arbnora Selmani, Asymptote

‘Though Happy Stories, Mostly is a relatively slim volume, it is wide-reaching in scope and integrates mythical, religious and cultural elements in a way that is inventive and powerful, “queering the norm” in manifold ways.’

Gaby Rusli, Asia Media International

‘Pasaribu’s LGBTQ maturity and authorial voice are clearly reflected in this exquisite work. Though somber and emotionally charged, he no longer utilizes literature to demand acceptance. Instead, Happy Stories, Mostly is less a plea than a platform displaying the need for openness and peace in place of rigid judgment founded upon long-held conventions and religious values.’