City of Joy – (Novel) written by Dominique Lapierre (Wikipedia)

City of Joy” is a novel written by Dominique Lapierre in 1985, which was later adapted into a film by Roland Joffé in 1992. Interestingly, the book has led to Calcutta being fondly referred to as “the City of Joy”, even though the slum depicted in the novel was actually inspired by an area in Howrah, which is Calcutta’s twin city.

City of Joy (Plot/Story)

At the heart of the narrative of “City of Joy” are the struggles faced by three central characters. The first is Father Stephan Kovalski, a young Polish priest (known as Paul Lambert in the original French version) who is determined to live amongst the poorest communities of Calcutta and help alleviate their suffering. He becomes a member of a religious order whose vows take them to the most difficult places on earth, and he willingly chooses to share the difficult lives of those he is trying to help.

The second character is Hasari Pal, a rickshaw puller in Calcutta who also endures immense hardship. The third character is a young American doctor, Max Loeb, who comes to Calcutta and experiences the stark reality of life in the slums. Throughout the story, we see Kovalski’s journey as he becomes accepted as the “Big Brother” to the slum dwellers. Along the way, he bears witness to everyday miracles amidst extreme poverty and ignorance.

Despite their suffering, the slum dwellers are disregarded and exploited by the wider society and those in power. However, they too have their own prejudices, as evidenced by their attitudes towards lepers and their adherence to the caste system. “City of Joy” offers a poignant portrayal of the struggles and resilience of those living in some of the harshest conditions on earth.

The narrative delves into the journey of Hasari Pal, a peasant farmer who migrates to Calcutta along with his family in the aftermath of a severe drought that destroys their ancestral farming village.

Adding to the mix is a wealthy American doctor who has recently graduated from medical school and yearns to make a meaningful impact before launching his practice that caters to the affluent clientele.

The book captures the stark divide between the affluent and underprivileged and also delves into the distinctions among various levels of poverty, caste divisions, and the coexistence of diverse religions in the slums. It also explores the work of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity.

The novel is a rollercoaster of emotions, highlighting the beauty and the horror of life in the slums, ultimately leading to a sense of peace and contentment. Despite enduring hunger, squalor, illness, back-breaking labor, or no work at all, and the specter of death, the characters hold on to the belief that life is priceless and worth cherishing. This is exemplified in the name they have bestowed on their slum, Anand Nagar, or “City of Joy.”

The writer has claimed that the anecdotes of the characters portrayed in the book are factual, and he has incorporated numerous actual names in his literary work. Nevertheless, the book is categorized as fiction since several dialogues and events are presumed or fabricated.

The author and his spouse voyaged to India on several occasions, frequently residing with their acquaintances in the “City of Joy”. Additionally, fifty percent of the proceeds garnered from the book’s sale are directed towards the City of Joy Foundation, an organization that provides aid to underprivileged children inhabiting slums in Calcutta.

Overview of City of Joy (Novel)

TitleCity of Joy
AuthorDominique Lapierre
SettingAnand Nagar, a fictional representation of Pilkhana in Howrah, West Bengal, India
Main characters Hasari Pal, a rickshaw puller; Joan Bethel, an American doctor; Stephan Kovalski, a Polish priest; and Ghosh, a local thief
PlotThe book follows the lives of people living in the slums of Anand Nagar and their struggle against poverty, violence, and disease. It explores the themes of social inequality, spirituality, and the power of human connection.
AwardsChristopher Award (1986)
Film adaptationThe book was adapted into a movie in 1992, directed by Roland Joffé and starring Patrick Swayze, Om Puri, and Shabana Azmi. The film won several awards, including the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.


In recognition of its embodiment of the highest ideals of humanity, the book was honored with the prestigious Christopher Award in 1986. This accolade is bestowed upon creative works that demonstrate exceptional values and principles.

Film adaptation

The book has been adapted into a movie of the same name directed by Roland Joffé, and the film has won several awards, including the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1992. The movie stars actors such as Patrick Swayze, Om Puri, and Shabana Azmi.

Inspiration from real life

The story takes place in Anand Nagar, a fictional representation of the Pilkhana neighborhood in Howrah, West Bengal, India. One of the main characters, Stephan Kovalski, is based on the real-life experiences of Gaston Dayanand, a Swiss nurse who relocated to India in 1972 and dedicated his life to advocating for the well-being of those residing in slums. Additionally, the book makes mention of Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity.

City of Joy Summary

“City of Joy” is a novel written by Dominique Lapierre and published in 1985. It is a fictionalized account of life in the slums of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India. The novel is set in the 1980s and follows the lives of several characters, including Hasari Pal, a rickshaw puller, his wife and their two children, and a French priest named Stephan Kovalski.

The story begins with the arrival of Kovalski in Kolkata, where he is initially overwhelmed by the poverty and misery he sees around him. However, he is soon taken under the wing of Mother Teresa, and begins working with a group of volunteers in the slums. Kovalski quickly becomes close to Hasari Pal and his family, as well as a young prostitute named Shantaram.

As the story unfolds, Lapierre depicts the struggles and hardships of life in the slums, including poverty, disease, and violence. However, he also highlights the resilience and hope of the people who live there, as they work to support themselves and their families and find meaning in their lives.

Throughout the novel, Lapierre also explores larger themes, such as the role of religion in people’s lives, the impact of colonialism on India, and the power of human connection and compassion.

FAQs related to City of Joy Novel

What is the City of Joy novel about?

City of Joy is a novel by Dominique Lapierre that explores life in the slums of Calcutta, India. It follows the lives of several characters as they struggle to survive in poverty and find hope in the midst of despair.

When was the City of Joy novel published?

The novel was first published in 1985.

Is the City of Joy novel based on a true story?

Yes, the novel is based on real events and people. Dominique Lapierre spent several years in Calcutta researching and documenting the lives of the people who lived in the slums.

What is the significance of the title “City of Joy”?

The title “City of Joy” is ironic, as it refers to the city of Calcutta, which is known for its poverty and suffering. However, the novel suggests that even in the midst of this suffering, there is hope and resilience among the people who live there.

What themes are explored in the City of Joy novel?

The novel explores themes such as poverty, suffering, hope, resilience, community, and social justice.

Has the City of Joy novel been adapted into a movie or TV series?

Yes, the novel was adapted into a movie in 1992 and a TV series in 2019.

What is the reception of the City of Joy novel?

The novel has received mixed reviews, with some praising its powerful portrayal of life in the slums of Calcutta and others criticizing it for perpetuating stereotypes about India and its people. However, it remains a popular and influential work of literature.

Review of City of Joy (Novel) in Short

City of Joy is a novel written by Dominique Lapierre that delves into the lives of various characters residing in the slums of Calcutta. The book is a poignant portrayal of poverty, despair, and the struggle for survival in an overcrowded urban setting.

The story primarily revolves around three protagonists – Hasari Pal, a peasant farmer forced to migrate to Calcutta after a drought destroys his village, Stephen Kovalski, a wealthy American doctor who desires to make a difference, and Sister Joan, a compassionate Irish Catholic nun.

Through their stories, Lapierre highlights the harsh realities of life in the slums of Calcutta, including the prevalence of crime, exploitation, and disease. The book also sheds light on the efforts of several individuals and organizations to improve the lives of the slum dwellers, including the City of Joy Foundation.

About ‘City of Joy’ novel writer “Dominique Lapierre”

Dominique Lapierre is a French author and humanitarian who was born on July 30, 1931. He has written several books on historical events and social issues, including “City of Joy,” which chronicles the struggles of people living in the slums of Kolkata, India.

Lapierre has a background in journalism and has worked for several French publications. He is also the co-founder of the City of Joy Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports underprivileged communities in India. In recognition of his humanitarian work, Lapierre was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award in India, in 2008.

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