A grand sweep of peoples and cultures united by a longing for what home really means.



The award-winning Sierra Leonean novelist looks at her life through multiple lenses.

“I love to fly….I love the drama of the takeoff. The improbability of the whole endeavor.” With this endearing admission, Forna inaugurates her first nonfiction work since The Devil That Danced on the Water (2002), which chronicled her search for the truth about her father’s execution in Sierra Leone in 1974. This collection ranges across topics as varied as colonialism, childhood memories, and chimpanzees. Her gaze takes in big events like Iran’s Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the Trump inauguration, but she’s at her best when coaxing hard-won wisdom out of everyday details. “Sleep is a political issue,” she declares in an essay about insomnia, noting how 18th-century Parisians would smash streetlamps to protest the conditions of sleep forced on them by the government. Forna glides smoothly among memoir, travel writing, history, and literary studies. The prose is intimate and conversational—“I do not have resting bitch face”—but the feeling of chatting over coffee belies the attention she gives to each sentence. Travel is ubiquitous in the text. Marveling at her mother’s experiences—she “has lived in nineteen countries on five continents….In between she has visited dozens more, taking in new countries year by year”—the author can barely go a page without mentioning a vacation to Thailand, a road trip through Death Valley, a winter in Tehran, and, of course, many trips to Sierra Leone. Everything is defined by roots, from Lebanese tourists to a Sri Lankan former banker to Croatian Nikola Tesla to the Kenyan ancestry of Barack Obama. Of the migrant population in her mother’s ancestral Shetland Islands, Forna writes: “The question ‘Where do you come from?’ is not followed by the spoken or silent ‘originally,’ but the word ‘now.’ ” Caught between worlds, Forna prefers to see them all from above, no doubt while on the plane to her next destination.

A grand sweep of peoples and cultures united by a longing for what home really means.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5858-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.


From the Pocket Change Collective series

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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