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HAPPINESS by Aminatta Forna Kirkus Star


by Aminatta Forna

Pub Date: March 6th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2755-6
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

The paths of two people—an American woman who studies the habits of urban foxes and a Ghanaian man specializing in refugee trauma—cross in London, creating a fork in the road for both.

Shot through with history, biology, and psychiatry, Forna’s (The Hired Man, 2013, etc.) fourth novel is an unusual work that characteristically integrates multiple layers with fluidity. Its central characters are divorced wildlife biologist Jean Turane, in London working for a local council, and noted psychiatrist Attila Asare, a widower, who's arrived to give the keynote speech at a conference. Both have devoted their working lives to interpreting behavior and response, whether human or animal. Jean’s context is the American history of settlement, wolf-hunting, and survival; Attila’s the international geography of war. One accidental encounter on Waterloo Bridge, when Jean runs into Attila while chasing a fox, leads to more time spent together; meanwhile, Attila is searching for two missing family members and trying to help an old lover now afflicted by early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, and Jean is drawn into a metropolitan fox-culling controversy. These far-from-sensational events, spanning some 10 days, are interrupted by more dramatic interludes set in Bosnia, New England, Iraq, and elsewhere, offering glimpses of Jean's and Attila’s pasts: work done, risks taken, pain experienced. Forna’s sensitive novel is nonostentatious yet compelling, and whether writing of Attila’s victims of conflict and terror or Jean’s birds and mammals, she offers wisdom and perspective, which is further extended to the possibility of romance between two questing strangers.

Low-key yet piercingly empathetic, Forna's latest explores instinct, resilience, and the complexity of human coexistence, reaffirming her reputation for exceptional ability and perspective.