I really enjoyed this strange little book. The story of Hector’s quest to understand the nature of happiness is told in an almost child-like way. However, the moments of truth which leap off the page at you, from whichever thinly disguised country he is visiting, are profound and very telling. As satires on the 21st century go, this is one of the best.
This question of children smiling reminded Hector of the story of one of his fellow psychiatrists. When he was a child, people from another country had occupied Hector’s country and had decided to put to death all the people with surnames they didn’t like. In order to do this they put them on trains and took them very far away, to places where nobody could see them doing this terrible thing. Hector’s colleague was a child with the wrong sort of surname, and he’d been kept in a camp with other children waiting for the train which would take them to their deaths. But because he was a child who smiled and made everybody laugh, including the people guarding the camp, some of the grown-ups had kept him back, hidden him, and he hadn’t been taken away with the others.
This was something all children wanting to survive should know, then: people are kinder to a child who smiles, even if it doesn’t always work.