- Expected May 18, 2021
Aminatta Forna is one of our most important literary voices, and her novels have won the Windham Campbell Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book. In this elegantly rendered and wide-ranging collection of new and previously published essays, Forna writes intimately about displacement, trauma and memory, love, and how we coexist and encroach on the non-human world.
Movement is a constant here. In the title piece, “The Window Seat,” she reveals the unexpected enchantments of commercial air travel. In “Obama and the Renaissance Generation,” she documents how, despite the narrative of Obama’s exceptionalism, his father, like her own, was one of a generation of gifted young Africans who came to the United Kingdom and the United States for education and were expected to build their home countries anew after colonialism. In “The Last Vet,” time spent shadowing Dr. Jalloh, the only veterinarian in Sierra Leone, as he works with the street dogs of Freetown, becomes a meditation on what a society’s treatment of animals tells us about its principles. In “Crossroads,” she examines race in America from an African perspective, and in “Power Walking” she describes what it means to walk in the world in a Black woman’s body and in “The Watch” she explores the raptures of sleep and sleeplessness the world over.
Deeply meditative and written with a wry humor, The Window Seat confirms that Forna is a vital voice in international letters.
Novelist Forna (Happiness) explores notions of place, identity, and movement in this bracing collection. In vignettes and long-form essays, she describes traveling through Mali; England, where she went to school; Sierra Leone, where she spent much of her childhood; and the U.S. In the title essay, Forna recalls flying as an unaccompanied minor, with maternal stewardesses and a heroic captain: "For six hours we lived inside the perfect patriarchy." "Obama and the Renaissance Generation" captures the difference between an African and an American perspective on Barack Obama as she traces her own father's history. The essays flit from childhood to adulthood and from place to place, which can at times be disorienting the shorter essays, such as "Ice," a three-page meditation on an ice skating performance, offer a welcome change of pace. Forna is a razor sharp prose stylist (airplanes, for example, are "like a galloping draught horse that, through sheer determination, somehow succeeds in clearing the oncoming fence"), and her attention to detail moves the collection forward, as in "Technicals," in which she examines emotional responses to war vehicle model names: "Defender. Patrol. These names invoke violence, force." Full of careful observations, Forna's meditations hit the mark.