Happiness: Book summary and reviews of Happiness by Aminatta Forna

Happiness

by Aminatta Forna

Happiness by Aminatta Forna X
Happiness by Aminatta Forna
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2018
    368 pages
    Genre: Novels

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Book Summary

A breathtaking novel from Orange Prize-shortlisted and Commonwealth Writers' Prize-winning author Aminatta Forna.

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Low-key yet piercingly empathetic, Forna's latest explores instinct, resilience, and the complexity of human coexistence, reaffirming her reputation for exceptional ability and perspective." - Kirkus

"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." - Publishers Weekly

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Reader Reviews

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Cloggie Downunder

a marvellous read
“When he was in London, going to see plays and eating in fine restaurants, the city itself began to feel like a stage set, whose denizens enacted their lives against its magnificent backdrop. A theatre of delights, where nothing surely could go wrong, and if it did, all would be put right by the end of the third act.”

Happiness is the fourth novel by British author, Aminatta Forna. American urban wildlife biologist Jean Turane has been living in London for eighteen months (studying the city’s fox population) when she runs into Dr Attila Asane: literally, the first time, on Waterloo Bridge; metaphorically, thereafter. Within days they have shared drinks and meals and are pooling their resources to search for a runaway ten-year-old boy.

Attila is a psychiatrist, well respected in the field of PTSD, and is in London to give his oft-used keynote speech at a conference. However, he soon finds his free time taken up with the search for Tano, and problems with Rosie Lennox, a former colleague who is now a care facility resident, and with Jean. By the time he makes his speech, the events of the preceding week see him altering it beyond all recognition.

As the events of the week unfold, the thoughts of main characters are drawn back to past incidents so that the reader gradually learns the path that has brought them to London in 2014. Vignettes of the support cast reveal chance connections. As well, they all spend time discussing topics pertinent to their current lives, so the story touches on PTSD, coffees, special diets, the medicalisation of normal emotions, foxes, coyotes, wolves and parakeets.

The City of London itself is a major character in this book: residents and readers familiar with the city will find this an especially enjoyable novel. Forna tells a tale of fortuitous meetings and degrees of separation and good people who go out of their way to help. The gathering of doormen, traffic wardens, street actors, security guards and street sweepers in the search for the boy is especially heart-warming, and Attila’s speech on trauma is enlightening. This is a marvelous read.

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Author Information

Aminatta Forna Author Biography

Photo: © Simon Westcott

Aminatta Forna was born in Glasgow and raised in Sierra Leone and the United Kingdom. She is the author of The Memory of Love, Ancestor Stones, The Devil that Danced on the Water, and The Memory of Love, which has been selected as one of the Best Books of the Year by the Sunday Telegraph, Financial Times and Times.

In 2002 Forna helped to build a primary school in her family's village of Rogbonko. The building of the school was the first step in what would become known as the Rogbonko Project: a community effort to create an escape route from poverty through multiple initiatives in the spheres of education, agriculture, infrastructure and health.

Forna is a trustee of the Royal Literary Fund and sits on the advisory committee of the Caine Prize for African Writing. She has also ...

... Full Biography
Link to Aminatta Forna's Website

Name Pronunciation
Aminatta Forna: A-mi-na-tta FOR-na

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