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The Pursuit of Happiness

The Pursuit of Happiness

A Novel

  • reading group guide
  • customer reviews
Manhattan, Thanksgiving eve, 1945. The war is over, and Eric Smythe’s party was in full swing. All his clever Greenwich Village friends were there. So too was his sister Sara, an independent, outspoken young woman, starting to make her way in the big city. And then in walked Jack Malone, a U.S. Army journalist just back from a defeated Germany, a man whose world view was vastly different than that of Eric and his friends. This chance meeting between Sara and Jack and the choices they both made in the wake of it would eventually have profound consequences, both for themselves and for those closest to them for decades afterwards. Set amidst the dynamic optimism of postwar New York and the subsequent nightmare of the McCarthy era, The Pursuit of Happiness is a great, tragic love story; a tale of divided loyalties, decisive moral choices and the random workings of destiny.
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  • Atria Books | 
  • 512 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439199145 | 
  • June 2010
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Read an Excerpt


I FIRST SAW her standing near my mother’s coffin. She was in her seventies – a tall, angular woman, with fine grey hair gathered in a compact bun at the back of her neck. She looked the way I hope to look if I ever make it to her birthday. She stood very erect, her spine refusing to hunch over with age. Her bone structure was flawless. Her skin had stayed smooth. Whatever wrinkles she had didn’t cleave her face. Rather, they lent it character, gravitas. She was still handsome – in a subdued, patrician way. You could tell that, once upon a recent time, men probably found her... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Pursuit of Happiness includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Douglas Kennedy. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Kate Malone stands at her mother’s coffin surrounded by the remains of her fragmented and troubled family. A mysterious woman she does not recognize stands with them, mourning quietly. Days later, this same woman demands to be in Kate’s life, explaining that she “knew her as a little girl.” Kate finally relents and allows Sara Smythe, a witty, intelligent New England woman to tell her story. Sara reveals details of her life as a young and passionate woman, being a professional writer in a man’s world after WWII, and of a secret love that bonds her to Kate’s own father, Jack Malone. What follows is a heart-wrenching, tragedy-soaked journey of a woman’s life, told to another to inspire, and teach life’s most perfect lesson, to survive at all cost, in the pursuit of happiness.

Discussion Questions

1. The novel is full of betrayals and infidelities. Both Kate Malone and Sara Smythe find these actions deplorable and are both betrayed see more

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