Literary Fiction

Happiness – Aminatta Forna

13 November 2018
Happiness Book Cover Happiness
Aminatta Forna

From award-winning writer Aminatta Forna, a stunning novel bringing an American scientist and a Ghanaian psychologist together in London in a hunt for a missing boy--and an expansive, subtle tale of loss, hope, love, compassion, culture, and the true meaning of happiness.


Aminatta Forna doesn’t just write stories to captivate us for a few hours, she challenges us to think about our homogeneity with the world and how we share this world with other living beings. She invites us to consider our relationships with others, both at a personal and societal level. Should everything that exists have a simple slap-on label? Dogs good! Foxes bad! Bad destroy !!

The main character, Jean, is an urban wildlife biologist, studying wildlife-human coexistence. Several times she accidentally bumps into Atilla, an internationally recognised conflict resolution psychologist in London for a conference. Needless to say, there is an attraction and the beginning of a smouldering love connection taking place that is tantalisingly developed throughout the book.

“There is a time one sees a new love, a person who might perhaps become a new love, when the possibility of love has been spoken for the first time, but the possibility of retreat still exists. … A false word or misstep and all might yet be undone. Beneath the possibility of joy lies the fear of shame.”

Atilla is convinced to take on a case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and we get an insight into the diagnosis considerations and again how we attempt to pigeon-hole everything. Aminatta uses Atilla to present to us a belief that mankind is naturally drawn to violent conflict and what are the trigger points for real or perceived grief, anger or threats. Atilla is resolving family and friends issues, where his ‘friend’ Rose is living with dementia in a nursing home and her attentive carer has been sacked. He also needs to track down his niece’s son who is living on the streets after immigration has detained his mother. The two areas of immigration and dementia are very sensitively and subtly provoked and explored. We can’t treat issues like these as black and white and often prejudices and selfish agendas remain hidden behind various courses of action.

Aminatta has a very intelligent and poetic writing style that is a joy to read. She touches on so many different areas where her observational and descriptive skills are wonderfully portrayed. She uses simple gestures and phrasing to illustrate and invoke much deeper motivations and intent. The concise nature of her writing enables us to explicate the scene in our minds and keeps a good pace to the narrative. The story is simply a powerhouse of modern day issues and observations.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing UK, for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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