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Happiness

By: Aminatta Forna

Publisher: Grove / Atlantic

Imprint: Atlantic Monthly Press

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9780802127556

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Electronic

On Sale: | Pages: 368

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"Not since Remains of the Day has an author so skillfully revealed the way history's layers are often invisible to all but its participants . . . Gorgeous."--John Freeman, Boston Globe on The Hired Man 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.
At its weakest, “Happiness” devolves into a stern lecture, delivered through Attila, arguing that our avoidance of discomfort has become a pathology, one that supports an ever-expanding therapeutic industry.... Yet Forna's finely structured novel powerfully succeeds on a more intimate scale as its humane characters try to navigate scorching everyday cruelties.
—New York Times
In Aminatta Forna's splendid new novel Happiness, the tension between wildness — animal and human — and control is a central issue for the two main characters.... She brings a cosmopolitan world view and a beautiful prose style to this novel, as well as deep insight into how we connect and adapt to the world, or don't.
—Tampa Bay Times
“Happiness” takes pains to connect its two halves — a treatise on changing city habitats with an intimate exploration of war, trauma and the ways in which migrant communities sustain themselves.... While more ecologically minded readers may feel otherwise, the fox material seems a touch strained to me, and Jean's storylines a little static. Adding to this, Forna's prose stays fairly measured, and the pile-up of coincidences puts hairline cracks in the fictional illusion.... Still, the book refinds its center of gravity when it returns to Attila, and his private sadness — he likes to tango with an imaginary partner in his lonely hotel rooms — generates considerable sympathy.... Though I appreciated that Forna didn't present this material as other writers might — with trembling outrage over the fate of a defenseless child — I occasionally longed for Attila to let loose his fear and frustration.
—San Francisco Chronicle
In her absorbing fourth novel, Aminatta Forna arrives at the meaning of the book's title, but not in ways you might expect. The story begins like a taut mystery and morphs into a romance between two tentative lovers, beset by loss.... Forna's prose is precise and often stunning in its clarity.... Most memorable is Forna's deep dive into attraction between the sexes.... This book starts slowly and deliberately, but burns brightly when it matters most.
—Seattle Times
“Happiness” is, for the most part, a tightly focused two-hander. We warm to both of the main characters through their struggles and their solidarity in the present. However, Forna creates fuller portraits by intercutting her narrative with flashbacks of their pasts.... What could have been a strident, speechifying polemic is instead a subtle, considered yet deeply resonant tale, one which sensitively and intelligently highlights connection over division and kindness over cruelty.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
Forna is too subtle and knowing a writer to create a straightforward, let alone inspirational, narrative. The action here may revolve around Attila's search in London for a relative's runaway child — a pleasingly simple mystery — but the novel has a wider orbit.... Throughout “Happiness,” Forna stops us in our tracks this way, with the emotional weight of an image or the seductive rhythm of a sentence.... “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
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