Sunday, 1 April 2018

Happiness by Aminatta Forna


Happiness by Aminatta Forna
First published in America by Atlantic Monthly Press on the 6th March 2018. Published in the UK by Bloomsbury on the 5th April 2018.

One of my ReadingWomen choices

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:


The Book Depository : from £11.02 (HB)
Wordery : from £11.01 (HB)
Waterstones : from £16.99 (HB)
Amazon : from £7.95 (used HB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

Waterloo Bridge, London. Two strangers collide. Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist, and Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes. From this chance encounter in the midst of the rush of a great city, numerous moments of connections span out and interweave, bringing disparate lives together. 

Attila has arrived in London with two tasks: to deliver a keynote speech on trauma and to check up on the daughter of friends, his 'niece', Ama, who hasn't called home in a while. It soon emerges that she has been swept up in an immigration crackdown – and now her young son Tano is missing. 

When, by chance, Attila bumps into Jean again, she joins him in his search for Tano, mobilizing into action the network she has built up, mainly from the many West African immigrants working London's myriad streets, of volunteer fox-spotters: security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens. All unite to help and as the search continues, a deepening friendship between Attila and Jean unfolds.

In this delicate yet powerful novel of loves lost and new, of past griefs and of the hidden side of a multicultural metropolis, Aminatta Forna asks us to consider the values of the society we live in, our co-existence with one another and all living creatures – and the true nature of happiness.

I loved Aminatta Forna's previous novel, The Memory Of Love, so was especially thrilled to get an advanced reader copy of her newest book, Happiness. While I wasn't emotionally swept up into the story in the same way this time around, I still enjoyed the read just as much. Happiness is set mostly in present-day London and I felt that Forna's evocation of the city is absolutely spot on. The feel of life in these streets and the interaction between the characters we meet there portrays a strong village-within-a-city vibe. Communities knit themselves together, supporting each other even though they may seem invisible to other people rushing past.

Forna uses her lead characters, Jean and Attila, to neatly contrast experiences of life in various places across the globe with that of different London communities. She explores the question of how we can create happiness for ourselves, whether it comes from internal or external sources and, most interestingly for me, whether humans need to have experienced pain and suffering in their own pasts in order to truly feel happy in the present. It's a provocative concept and one which I have thought about a lot since finishing this book. I am not sure that this Happiness (the novel) will appeal to every reader. I particularly appreciated Jean for her independent mind and ambitions, but she isn't always likeable, and I found Attila sometimes too aloof to easily empathise with. However I thought these attributes made them both feel real. I'm not sure I completely understood the deeper meaning of the urban fox / coyote storylines although I enjoyed learning about their lives too.



Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Aminatta Forna / Contemporary fiction / Books from Sierra Leone

12 comments:

  1. I think I need a break from speculative fiction and would love to read something like this! It sounds so global and inspiring! Definitely a provocative concept about happiness!

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    1. It's an interesting idea. If we've never been truly miserable, can we recognise genuine happiness?

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  2. This sounds like something I'd love. I don't read much contemporary fiction these days, but I used to read it a lot. Thanks for sharing your review!

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  3. Sounds like the author did a great job with the setting! And it seems the book is a really throught-provoking one with a lot of depth.

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    1. A second great book from Aminatta Forna. She's one of my favourite authors

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  4. This one sounds really good especially since you've read this author's work before and she is one of your favorite authors. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Happy to recommend Aminatta Forna's novels :-)

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  5. Wow, this book seems to be filled with deep philosophical thoughts and it touches upon important issues. It should be interesting for me as former Londoner too. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    Ronnie @ Paradise Found

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    1. It has interesting perspectives on issues I hadn't really considered in depth before

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  6. Sometimes you can head over heels love a book but also tell that it isn't going to be one for everyone to love. So I appreciate you mentioning that in this review! It does sound like a good and engaging read though.

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    1. I often find my reading tastes are a little skewed from many other people's!

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