Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna

Others have dubbed this one atmospheric and disturbing.  I alternate between stunning and unsettling.  Make no mistake, this beautifully written story of the civil war that took place in Croatia in 2007, contains brutal text, ugly scenes, gut-wrenching episodes of inhuman behavior.  But it also provides the reader with a protagonist who is able to look objectively at his life and present us with an attitude of acceptance, sorrow, hope and revenge left unclaimed.

Duro Kolak, local handyman and hunter, agrees to help vacationing Englishwoman Laura and her two children, to repair and restore "the old Blue House".   Duro does not divulge his memories about the house or the friends who once lived there. Many of the scenes are centered on hunting - a necessary means of providing food for the village, but a form of carnage that is not one I'm fond of. Forna goes back and forth from present to the past to show the devastation caused by the war.  Her juxtaposition of the native villagers and their actions during the war with the fairy-tale vision Laura espouses of the beautiful mountain town provides a broad spectrum of emotions and reactions in the characters and the reader.  Duro's attempts to mesh his memories of the past (arising from his work on the Blue House) with the delights of the restoration work keep the reader turning pages to the end.

It's a book that will stay with the reader long after the story is finished.  It's on the short list for the Maine Readers' Choice Award this year, and it will certainly be one to which I give serious consideration when it comes time to choose the Finalists.

Title: The Hired Man
Author: Aminatta Forna
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (2013), Hardcover, 304 pages
Genre: historical fiction
Subject: Croation civil war
Setting: Fictional town Gost Croatia
Source: Review copy from the publisher.
Why did I read this book now?  It's on the Maine Readers Choice Short List.

 My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy.


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