In a soft-spoken story of brutality and endurance set in postwar Sierra Leone, three lonely men are connected by love and a legacy of terror.
Gravitas distinguishes the ambitious second novel by Forna (Ancestor Stones, 2006, etc.), which uses a handful of perspectives and consciences to consider the impact of civil war on an African nation. Adrian Lockheart, a British psychiatrist, is treating elderly, dying Elias Cole, a history lecturer who recounts his obsession, decades earlier, with Saffia, the wife of Julius, a colleague who is suddenly arrested and who dies in police custody. Although she does not love him, Saffia later marries Elias and they have a child. Was Elias partly complicit in Julius’s death? Kai, a surgeon at the same hospital as Adrian who has treated victims of the civil war, notably amputees cleaved by machetes, is haunted by terrible events. And Adrian is drawn deeper into recent history by a patient whose disorder symbolizes the scarcely bearable legacy of atrocities inflicted on the civilian population. Setting her story against a background of streets, beaches, bars, police stations and hospitals, Forna evokes a vivid social and cultural panorama. Affection between characters is overshadowed by politics, poverty and the larger fingerprint of a bloody past. While later episodes are weakened by occasional lapses of subtlety and too much connection heaped on a single character, Forna’s insight, elegance and elegiac tone never falter.
Tragedy and its aftermath are affectingly, memorably evoked in this multistranded narrative from a significant talent.