English tourists visiting a small Croatian village unwittingly stir up memories of the past, a legacy of horror which still holds the locals in its thrall, in a persuasive tale of silent secrets.
Dark and troubling, this novel by award-winning British-based writer Forna (The Memory of Love, 2011, etc.) returns to the territory of tragedy and aftermath, this time in Europe, where the beauties of a summer cottage in Gost, a village in Croatia, are undercut by recollections of the terrible events that mar the community’s conscience. Narrated by the titular hired man, Duro, who offers to help the visitors repair the blue house they have bought as a holiday home, it is a story of slow, incremental animosities that find full expression once war descends on the village. Duro, a taciturn loner, once had a happy life in Gost, complete with a family, friends and a secret romance with Anka. But the couple’s betrayal forces Duro to leave and, on his return, 10 years later, Anka is married to another. Restoring the blue house, where Anka lived, reminds Duro of the somber events he has both witnessed and perpetrated, as well as evoking intense responses from other villagers. Forna’s storytelling is beautifully paced, chilly and brooding in tone, and powerfully gripping. The miasma of foreboding hanging over the book is finally explained in a haunting conclusion that takes the long view.
A low-key but sophisticated portrait of history—and evil—at a local level.