by Aminatta Forna

Overview -

"Throughout Happiness , Forna stops in our tracks . . . Reminiscent at times of Michael Ondaatje's novel Anil's Ghost . . . Happiness is a meditation on grand themes: Love and death, man and nature, cruelty and mercy.  Read more...

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More About Happiness by Aminatta Forna

"Throughout Happiness, Forna stops in our tracks . . . Reminiscent at times of Michael Ondaatje's novel Anil's Ghost . . . Happiness is a meditation on grand themes: Love and death, man and nature, cruelty and mercy. But Forna folds this weighty matter into her buoyant creation with a sublimely delicate touch."--Washington Post

London. A fox makes its way across Waterloo Bridge. The distraction causes two pedestrians to collide--Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes, and Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist there to deliver a keynote speech. From this chance encounter, Aminatta Forna's unerring powers of observation show how in the midst of the rush of a great city lie numerous moments of connection.

Attila has arrived in London with two tasks: to deliver a keynote speech on trauma, as he has done many times before; and to contact the daughter of friends, his "niece" who hasn't called home in a while. Ama has been swept up in an immigration crackdown, and now her young son Tano is missing.

When, by chance, Attila runs into Jean again, she mobilizes the network of rubbish men she uses as volunteer fox spotters. Security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens--mainly West African immigrants who work the myriad streets of London--come together to help. As the search for Tano continues, a deepening friendship between Attila and Jean unfolds.

Meanwhile a consulting case causes Attila to question the impact of his own ideas on trauma, the values of the society he finds himself in, and a grief of his own. In this delicate tale of love and loss, of cruelty and kindness, Forna asks us to consider the interconnectedness of lives, our co-existence with one another and all living creatures, and the true nature of happiness.

  • ISBN-13: 9780802127556
  • ISBN-10: 080212755X
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Publish Date: March 2018
  • Page Count: 368
  • Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds

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Books > Fiction > Literary

BookPage Reviews

Of foxes and chance encounters

In Aminatta Forna’s fourth novel, Happiness, the collision of two strangers on a London bridge sets in motion a series of events involving a missing child, a mysterious court case and city-dwelling foxes.

When animal biologist Jean Turane is knocked down by Attila Asare on Waterloo Bridge, she is in pursuit of a fox whose behavior she’s been chronicling as part of a larger study on urban wildlife. Attila, a noted psychologist from Ghana, is on his way to a dinner. Both have devoted their professional lives to understanding and interpreting behavior, whether in child soldiers or animals, and find that their initial meeting, however accidental, reveals they have much in common. Attila is in town to present a paper on war-related post-traumatic stress disorder but also plans to visit family and to check in on Rose, a former lover and co-worker diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Over the next 10 days, Attila’s niece is swept up in an immigration crackdown, and Rose’s needs prove ill served by the nursing home, while Jean gets drawn more deeply into a citywide fox-culling controversy. Both Attila and Jane turn to neighborhood residents—mostly North African immigrants—to assist them in their searches for missing relatives and elusive foxes, and their relationship evolves from allies to lovers.

When Attila is asked to be an expert witness in a court case involving a woman from Sierra Leone accused of arson, he begins to re-evaluate the causal links between suffering and trauma, and starts to question the nature of happiness itself.

Forna has explored war and its aftermath before, most notably in her memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water, which centered on her father’s execution for false charges of treason during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Happiness is a different kind of book—less dramatic, but with the delicacy and strength of a spider’s web. An understated but piercing narrative of great compassion, Happiness trades action for a thoughtful study of adaptability and the empathic bonds shared between humans and animals.


This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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