The Hired Man
Gost is surrounded by mountains and fields of wild flowers. The summer sun burns. The Croatian winter brings freezing winds. Beyond the boundaries of the town an old house which has lain empty for years is showing signs of life. One of the windows, glass darkened with dirt, today stands open, and the lively chatter of English voices carries across the fallow fields. Laura and her teenage children have arrived. A short distance away lies the hut of Duro Kolak who lives alone with his two hunting dogs. As he helps Laura with repairs to the old house, they uncover a mosaic beneath the ruined plaster and, in the rising heat of summer, painstakingly restore it. But Gost is not all it seems; conflicts long past still suppurate beneath the scars.
A powerful novel about the indelible effects of war and the memories which stir beneath the silence of a quiet Croatian town, from Orange Prize-shortlisted and Commonwealth Writers' Prize-winning author Aminatta Forna
Unsettling and supremely masterful novel ... The depth of his character is revealed in every tic of his lonely, ritualised life, and his past is glimpsed in every freighted friendship and casual interaction he has with the men of the town. Through his brooding, bristling machismo, he becomes one of Hemingway's men - epic in his small, everyman heroism. Every relationship is keenly realised ... The family is sharply observed ... What stands out in all of this is Forna's near-perfect authorial control. She reveals her story at a pace of measured suspense until it reads like a slow-burn thriller. Her prose quietly grips us by the throat and then tightens its hold. It is storytelling at its most taut, and it leaves Forna less a gifted African voice, more a gifted writer, and one who has, with this book, magnificently realised her literary potential Independent Forna writes sensitively about the power of a history that is both terrible and banal ... Duro's voice carries the narrative with a solidity and complexity that is very satisfying ... Knowing, and not daring to know; the difference between innocence and ignorance; the dangers of people entering situations that they do not understand: all of these are Forna's themes, expressed with a deliberated coolness of tone. The best of this novel lies in its bleak insistence that the lives that have to be lived after the killing is over are almost beyond the comprehension of outsiders The Times A bravura performance ... If her second novel The Memory of Love, set in Africa, confirmed Forna's flair for writing about war and its aftermath, The Hired Man seals her reputation as arguably the best writer of fiction in this field ... The intelligence of Forna's storytelling is testament to a woman who ... has deep emotional resources ... A "method" writer who didn't just research guns for this book, she learned how to shoot. The result is that scenes like the soldier's comically brutal execution in the forest or Duro's valediction to his dog are both masterclasses in descriptive writing. I found myself so eagerly consuming the story that I was missing the subtlety of her whispered prose and had to keep turning back to previous chapters. Forna is an author who demands much thought from her reader - not to mention Googling the fantastically complex Balkan Wars just to keep up. This is a novel to be passed on judiciously, like a special gift, a tale of two summers you may well want to read twice Evening Standard Though she has transmuted the trauma into compelling art, the constant redrafting of childhood experience might be subject to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a writer to whom Forna is frequently compared, has termed "the danger of a single story" ... She has a terrific ability to evoke the poisonous atmosphere of culpability and denial from which civil conflicts emerge ... Forna brilliantly portrays the atmosphere of festering tension in which perpetrators of the most grotesque acts of violence continue to live side by side ... She remains committed to a single story; though The Hired Man triumphantly proves that the story need not always remain the same Guardian The dual present/past narrative has become a cliche in recent literary fiction - but it's one that Aminatta Forna uses here with terrific skill and insight Daily Mail The Hired Man is an ingenious examination of the kind of ghosts that those with no experience of civil war are unable to see Observer Subtle new novel ... There may be peace in the Balkans but the war, she suggests, continues: played out through memories that won't die in quiet, sleepless streets **** Claire Allfree, Metro An intricate tapestry of betrayal, tragedy and loss ... Forna understands that it is only by making patterns out of chaos that humans find the courage to continue living. And in this affecting, passionate and intelligent novel about the redemptive power of love and storytelling, she shows how it is done Daily Telegraph This richly accomplished and satisfying novel, which engages both mind and heart, has rightly made the Orange Prize shortlist Independent Brilliant ... a remarkable novel Guardian Intelligent, engrossing and beautifully crafted Daily Mail Aminatta Forna, a specialist in the aftermath of conflict ... Forna handles the culture clash adroitly ... Combining a contemporary domestic drama with a tragic tale of recent war, The Hired Man is artfully constructed ... Behind the simple Duro there stands a sophisticated author, whose novel is all the more powerful for not being overexplicit The Sunday Times Fans of The English Patient will love this haunting, memorable book Red Aminatta Forna's third novel shares a certain slow-burning mystique with its eponymous handyman narrator: likeable and benign to begin with, it gradually reveals its deeper, darker and more unsettling characteristics ... Forna skilfully maintains and manages Duro's secrets, before - just when you care enough to be devastated - letting them struggle to the surface and reveal themselves. She crafts a story that initially seduces with intense and vivid physical detail, low, sour wit and a suggestion of romance, before twisting - without the reader even fully registering - it into a knotty, powerfully ambiguous allegory for collective trauma and negotiation with historical pain. Yet The Hired Man also operates as a whodunit and a thriller. Forna has done some serious homework to render Duro's past experiences authentic ... and for all its poignancy and political seriousness, her book also lends a salty, Hemingway-esque enjoyment to its evocations of deadly adventure. This is not just compelling, but clever: by involving us in Duro's memories of his heart-pounding escapades, Forna gives us to understand something of his guilty attachment to risk and subterfuge, and thus of the element of romance that dwelt within the horror that the townspeople experienced ... It's a sharp, pertinent, absorbing story told by a writer of extreme gifts - one who disappears into her narrative and her characters, and who makes every nuance of surface communication and behaviour revealing of deeper truths. Forna is brilliant on male competition and unspoken resentments; brilliant on the passive-aggressive communication techniques of teenagers and married people; brilliant on awkward sexual undercurrents in platonic friendships; brilliant on dogs. All of this felt emotional detail builds toward the revelation of Gost's history and Duro's personal role therein effectively enough that when it comes, it's neither melodramatic nor unconvincingly mythic, but real and immediate. Forna's novel comments on the supposed brevity of collective memory - the assumption on the part of the overweening political and economic system that inconvenient human skirmishes will be swiftly forgotten to make way for progress, and the real-world incompatibility of that assumption with the way that people and communities actually function. But it also observes - in a manner wide-eyed rather than critical - the capacity of individuals to live pressed up against the signs and sources of their past trauma, and to somehow make the best of it ... Forna is to be forgiven for overreaching a touch, in a book otherwise so generous, so involving and so rich with meaning Scotland on Sunday Forna is eloquent on the far-reaching consequences of ethnic hatred Times Literary Supplement **** Lewis Jones, Daily Telegraph Powerfully subtle Mail on Sunday Miss Forna's trademark sharp prose and elegant storytelling make this both a meditative read and a page-turner - a rare feat ... Characters jump off the page with humour and insight ... The author is a master of cultural ironies ... The Hired Man is rewarding on many levels: family dynamics, small communities, the intimate story of the Yugoslav wars, and, not least, the sensuously rendered countryside teeming with stags and boar, where Duro and his dogs hunt and roam, guardians of unspeakable truths Country Life Slowly unpeels the reality of a small Croatian town's shadowy past Scotland on Sunday A fresh, immaculate stylist and an unsparing chronicler of human vices ... Subtle ... A profound and unsettling book The Times, Summer Reads An intelligent, calculated and probing study of people Pride Magazine Haunting Evening Standard, Summer Reads Writing that cleanses your palate. The storytelling draws you into the Croatian village where Duro Kolak hides from the past Independent, Beach Reads Forna ... shows mastery of her subject ... The most extraordinary thing about this novel is its taut, razor-sharp prose Arifa Akbar, Independent Books of the Year
Aminatta Forna was born in Glasgow, raised in Sierra Leone and Britain and also spent periods of her childhood in Iran, Thailand and Zambia. She is the award-winning author of two novels, The Memory of Love and Ancestor Stones, and a memoir The Devil that Danced on the Water, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. She has also written short stories and essays as well as for radio and television and presented arts magazine and documentary programmes, and was recently appointed Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. Aminatta Forna lives in London. @aminattaforna http://www.aminattaforna.com/