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'Forna's voice is relentlessly compelling, her ability to summon atmosphere extraordinary ... A thing of lasting beauty' Observer
SHORTLISTED FOR THE RSL ONDAATJE PRIZE 2019
SHORTLISTED FOR THE JHALAK PRIZE 2019
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 teeming 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.
This elegant novel from Forna (The Memory of Love) opens with a chance encounter: Ghanaian psychiatrist Attila Asare and American urban wildlife biologist Jean Turane collide while walking across London's Waterloo Bridge. Normally dispatched to war zones for his expertise in post-traumatic stress disorder, Attila is in town to speak at a conference. Jean lives there and researches the city's foxes. After a second encounter on the bridge, Attila offers to buy Jean a drink at his hotel bar and reveals that he had a secondary reason to come to London: to locate the teenage son of a friend who might have been swept up by immigration officials. Jean volunteers to help and eventually organizes a search to find the young runaway. A diverse cast of supporting characters (many of whom are West African immigrants) and Forna's rich descriptions of London make the novel potent and immersive. With their professional expertise and contemplative personalities, the protagonists offer wisdom on the nature of cruelty, the fear of the untamable, and the challenge of defining normality. The occasional bit of awkward dialogue and a convoluted plot will strain some readers' patience. Despite a reliance on coincidence to drive her narrative, Forna's gift for characterization allows her to ask genuine, practical questions about the delicate problems of the human condition in this ambitious novel.