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Reviews of The Museum of Happiness

“Kercheval brings an appealing,  feather-light touch to such weighty themes as motherhood, nationality,  and the march of time. . . . An eclectic exhibition of its author’s  talents.”
New York Times Book Review

“So many lovely moments and such complex ambitions . . . Jesse Lee Kercheval is certain to dazzle us again.”
Washington Post Book World

“Kercheval’s first novel moves, rather like a warmer-hearted version of an Almodovar movie, through the ups and downs of two people of passion: Ginny Gillespie, a 20-year-old American widow feeling her oats in Paris of 1929, and Roland Keppi, an Alsatian-German victim of misfortune trying, like Ginny, to fit together the stray pieces of his identity. They meet by chance in the capital city; fall in love; survive a very trying separation; and are reunited magically and marvelously. But to say so doesn't describe the brisk, fanciful aplomb of the writing, which takes us on an adventure full of trans-Atlantic incongruities without getting lost. Kercheval's talents are many--a delicate sense of the visual; robustly realistic dialogue; a tragic and comic imagination--but the most impressive may be her narrative balance, sustained throughout many diversions in the plot. Her balance is thematic, too, gathering together distinctly different elements: the personal and the political, wit and earnestness, the force of death and that of life. Her cinematic brio in constructing scenes could be the envy of a filmmaker; her appreciation of character is deep, large, sharp.”
Publisher’s Weekly

“After her husband’s sudden death, Ginny Gillespie travels with his ashes to Paris, where she meets and falls in love with Roland Keppi, a strange, visionary man without a country. Their dreamlike affair is disrupted when Roland vanishes, deported to a German camp for people without identity papers. But coincidences, dreams, and visions eventually reunite them with the promise of a bright future. Set primarily in France between the world wars, the narrative moves easily between the present and the past and among Ginny, Roland, and the important people in their lives. These intertwining stories raise questions of fate and the meaning of family, identity, and happiness. Full of gentle, quirky characters and a rich sense of place, this first novel by the author of The Dogeater.
Library Journal

“Girl meets boy in Montmartre in 1929. Girl suddenly loses boy following her (Ginny’s) impregnation by boy (Roland); she tries to find him, all the while enduring endless anguish. He’s in Germany, where the French deported him for inadequate proof of citizenship. But he’s still unreachable, and Ginny abruptly decamps from the city with a new friend—a lady wise about the world. They closet themselves in a small country town and are supported by the quirky feminine society of an old lace maker, proprietor of the museum of the title. As Ginny awaits her baby’s birth, lo! Roland appears, having escaped through a landscape of dreamy symbolism, even bumping into drowned boys from his youth. In effecting this all’s-well-that-ends-well plot, the author shows the twisting path yearning takes, and even if dramatic tension barely registers, the mood seems thoughtfully realized.”

“Love (with some help from magic and coincidence) conquers all for a rich young American widow and a stateless vagrant in Paris in 1929: a charming first novel—literary in style (portions first appeared in journals like Boulevard and Indiana Review) and feel—good in impact. Kercheval’s story collection, won the Associated Writing Programs Award in Short Fiction in 1987. ‘Everyone has their own museum of happiness’—inside the head—‘where no one can touch it.’ Or so Ginny Gillespie learns before the triumphant end of her adventures. Back home in Florida, Ginny was dying of pneumonia when her doctor married her in order to authorize treatment that her mother—a Jehovah’s Witness—refused. Soon after her recovery, he died, leaving Ginny enough money to flee to Paris. (Her only sane relative, confined to a mental hospital, warns her: ‘When you get discouraged and you want to come home . . . don’t.’) Meanwhile, Roland, born in the disputed territory of Alsace, inherited the webbed fingers and psychic abilities of his father’s family; after WW I, his German mother tried to give him her nationality, but not her love. In Paris, Ginny and Roland promptly connect in a pairing so odd that it must be fate. Within days, he is deported to a German detention camp. Ginny—pregnant—desperately tries to find him, while Roland—by natural and/or supernatural means—will be by her side when their baby is born.”
Kirkus Reviews

The Museum of Happiness is a wonderful novel about wishing, about the mysteriousness of things coming true, and in that combination of magic and history, it is reminiscent of the work of Steven Millhauser or Jeanette Winterson. Jesse Lee Kercheval is an ambitious and talented writer.”
Lorrie Moore

“What a wonderful and original novel! I was caught up in its spell from beginning to end. Ginny and Roland and the picaresque adventures that lead them to and from Paris in 1929 are stunningly told with daring, humor and skill. This book proclaims that fiction still matters, character and destiny still prevail and that the absurdities of life can contain the seeds of redemption. The Museum of Happiness is a joyous leap of faith and Jesse Lee Kercheval’s first novel is, simply, a masterpiece.”
Julia Markus

“Jesse Lee Kercheval has written a beautiful novel that succeeds on all fronts. The Museum of Happiness is wise, funny, tragic, enchanting. But it is Ms. Kercheval’s imagination, the sustained breadth of it, the lyric voice behind it, that makes this book worth reading, and reading again.”
Brett Lott

The Museum of Happiness is a one-of-a-kind: a story of innocence abroad, American straightfowardness set free in a Europe whose wicked habits are overcome by sheer grace and trust and lovingkindness. If that sounds like a Henry James story turned inside out, believe me, he never told his stories this way—anyone whose read Jesse Lee Kercheval’s stories knows she’s an original. Her novel is delightful—a kind of down-home visionary spirit plays across it, a light-footed magic realism that makes this a satisfying story with a surprise on every page.”
Rosellen Brown