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The Hired Man [Hardcover]

Aminatta Forna
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Mar 2013

Gost is surrounded by mountains and fields of wild flowers. The summer sun burns. The Croatian winter brings freezing winds. Beyond the boundaries of the town an old house which has lain empty for years is showing signs of life. One of the windows, glass darkened with dirt, today stands open, and the lively chatter of English voices carries across the fallow fields. Laura and her teenage children have arrived.

A short distance away lies the hut of Duro Kolak who lives alone with his two hunting dogs. As he helps Laura with repairs to the old house, they uncover a mosaic beneath the ruined plaster and, in the rising heat of summer, painstakingly restore it. But Gost is not all it seems; conflicts long past still suppurate beneath the scars.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (28 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408817667
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408817667
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.4 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 338,162 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Aminatta Forna was born in Scotland and raised in West Africa and the UK. Her most recent novel The Hired Man is a tale of love, loss, betrayal and war in Croatia. Her previous novel The Memory of Love (April 2010), was winner of the 2011 Commonwealth Writers Prize Best Book Award, shortlisted for the Orange Prize 201, the IMPAC 2012 and the 2011 Warwick Prize.

Aminatta's first book The Devil that Danced on the Water, a memoir of her dissident father and of Sierra Leone, was runner-up for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003 and BBC Book of the Week. Her novel Ancestor Stones was winner of the 2008 Hurston Wright Legacy Award, the Liberaturpreis in Germany, was nominated for the International IMPAC Award and selected by the Washington Post as one of the most important books of 2006.

Product Description


Unsettling and supremely masterful novel ... The depth of his character is revealed in every tic of his lonely, ritualised life, and his past is glimpsed in every freighted friendship and casual interaction he has with the men of the town. Through his brooding, bristling machismo, he becomes one of Hemingway's men - epic in his small, everyman heroism. Every relationship is keenly realised ... The family is sharply observed ... What stands out in all of this is Forna's near-perfect authorial control. She reveals her story at a pace of measured suspense until it reads like a slow-burn thriller. Her prose quietly grips us by the throat and then tightens its hold. It is storytelling at its most taut, and it leaves Forna less a gifted African voice, more a gifted writer, and one who has, with this book, magnificently realised her literary potential (Independent)

Forna writes sensitively about the power of a history that is both terrible and banal ... Duro's voice carries the narrative with a solidity and complexity that is very satisfying ... Knowing, and not daring to know; the difference between innocence and ignorance; the dangers of people entering situations that they do not understand: all of these are Forna's themes, expressed with a deliberated coolness of tone. The best of this novel lies in its bleak insistence that the lives that have to be lived after the killing is over are almost beyond the comprehension of outsiders (The Times)

A bravura performance ... If her second novel The Memory of Love, set in Africa, confirmed Forna's flair for writing about war and its aftermath, The Hired Man seals her reputation as arguably the best writer of fiction in this field ... The intelligence of Forna's storytelling is testament to a woman who ... has deep emotional resources ... A "method" writer who didn't just research guns for this book, she learned how to shoot. The result is that scenes like the soldier's comically brutal execution in the forest or Duro's valediction to his dog are both masterclasses in descriptive writing. I found myself so eagerly consuming the story that I was missing the subtlety of her whispered prose and had to keep turning back to previous chapters. Forna is an author who demands much thought from her reader - not to mention Googling the fantastically complex Balkan Wars just to keep up. This is a novel to be passed on judiciously, like a special gift, a tale of two summers you may well want to read twice (Evening Standard)

Though she has transmuted the trauma into compelling art, the constant redrafting of childhood experience might be subject to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a writer to whom Forna is frequently compared, has termed "the danger of a single story" ... She has a terrific ability to evoke the poisonous atmosphere of culpability and denial from which civil conflicts emerge ... Forna brilliantly portrays the atmosphere of festering tension in which perpetrators of the most grotesque acts of violence continue to live side by side ... She remains committed to a single story; though The Hired Man triumphantly proves that the story need not always remain the same (Guardian)

The dual present/past narrative has become a cliché in recent literary fiction - but it's one that Aminatta Forna uses here with terrific skill and insight (Daily Mail)

The Hired Man is an ingenious examination of the kind of ghosts that those with no experience of civil war are unable to see (Observer)

Subtle new novel ... There may be peace in the Balkans but the war, she suggests, continues: played out through memories that won't die in quiet, sleepless streets **** (Claire Allfree, Metro)

An intricate tapestry of betrayal, tragedy and loss ... Forna understands that it is only by making patterns out of chaos that humans find the courage to continue living. And in this affecting, passionate and intelligent novel about the redemptive power of love and storytelling, she shows how it is done (Daily Telegraph)

This richly accomplished and satisfying novel, which engages both mind and heart, has rightly made the Orange Prize shortlist (Independent)

Brilliant ... a remarkable novel (Guardian)

Intelligent, engrossing and beautifully crafted (Daily Mail)

Aminatta Forna, a specialist in the aftermath of conflict ... Forna handles the culture clash adroitly ... Combining a contemporary domestic drama with a tragic tale of recent war, The Hired Man is artfully constructed ... Behind the simple Duro there stands a sophisticated author, whose novel is all the more powerful for not being overexplicit (The Sunday Times)

Fans of The English Patient will love this haunting, memorable book (Red)

Aminatta Forna's third novel shares a certain slow-burning mystique with its eponymous handyman narrator: likeable and benign to begin with, it gradually reveals its deeper, darker and more unsettling characteristics ... Forna skilfully maintains and manages Duro's secrets, before - just when you care enough to be devastated - letting them struggle to the surface and reveal themselves. She crafts a story that initially seduces with intense and vivid physical detail, low, sour wit and a suggestion of romance, before twisting - without the reader even fully registering - it into a knotty, powerfully ambiguous allegory for collective trauma and negotiation with historical pain. Yet The Hired Man also operates as a whodunit and a thriller. Forna has done some serious homework to render Duro's past experiences authentic ... and for all its poignancy and political seriousness, her book also lends a salty, Hemingway-esque enjoyment to its evocations of deadly adventure. This is not just compelling, but clever: by involving us in Duro's memories of his heart-pounding escapades, Forna gives us to understand something of his guilty attachment to risk and subterfuge, and thus of the element of romance that dwelt within the horror that the townspeople experienced ... It's a sharp, pertinent, absorbing story told by a writer of extreme gifts - one who disappears into her narrative and her characters, and who makes every nuance of surface communication and behaviour revealing of deeper truths. Forna is brilliant on male competition and unspoken resentments; brilliant on the passive-aggressive communication techniques of teenagers and married people; brilliant on awkward sexual undercurrents in platonic friendships; brilliant on dogs. All of this felt emotional detail builds toward the revelation of Gost's history and Duro's personal role therein effectively enough that when it comes, it's neither melodramatic nor unconvincingly mythic, but real and immediate. Forna's novel comments on the supposed brevity of collective memory - the assumption on the part of the overweening political and economic system that inconvenient human skirmishes will be swiftly forgotten to make way for progress, and the real-world incompatibility of that assumption with the way that people and communities actually function. But it also observes - in a manner wide-eyed rather than critical - the capacity of individuals to live pressed up against the signs and sources of their past trauma, and to somehow make the best of it ... Forna is to be forgiven for overreaching a touch, in a book otherwise so generous, so involving and so rich with meaning (Scotland on Sunday)

Forna is eloquent on the far-reaching consequences of ethnic hatred (Times Literary Supplement)

**** (Lewis Jones, Daily Telegraph)

Powerfully subtle (Mail on Sunday)

Miss Forna's trademark sharp prose and elegant storytelling make this both a meditative read and a page-turner - a rare feat ... Characters jump off the page with humour and insight ... The author is a master of cultural ironies ... The Hired Man is rewarding on many levels: family dynamics, small communities, the intimate story of the Yugoslav wars, and, not least, the sensuously rendered countryside teeming with stags and boar, where Duro and his dogs hunt and roam, guardians of unspeakable truths (Country Life)

Slowly unpeels the reality of a small Croatian town's shadowy past (Scotland on Sunday)

A fresh, immaculate stylist and an unsparing chronicler of human vices ... Subtle ... A profound and unsettling book (The Times, Summer Reads)

An intelligent, calculated and probing study of people (Pride Magazine)

Haunting (Evening Standard, Summer Reads)

Writing that cleanses your palate. The storytelling draws you into the Croatian village where Duro Kolak hides from the past (Independent, Beach Reads)

Forna ... shows mastery of her subject ... The most extraordinary thing about this novel is its taut, razor-sharp prose (Arifa Akbar, Independent Books of the Year)

Book Description

A powerful novel about the indelible effects of war and the memories which stir beneath the silence of a quiet Croatian town, from Orange Prize-shortlisted and Commonwealth Writers' Prize-winning author Aminatta Forna

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 'Someone must stand guard over the past' 5 Jun 2013
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is an intelligent and humane book revisiting the tragic conflicts in the Balkans. It's a book that I wanted to love but I found it paler and far less emotionally powerful than I had hoped.

Quiet and slow, the first two thirds feel ponderous and overly painstaking. It's only in the last third that we seem to reach the ethical heart of the book but it's hardly unfamiliar territory. There's something deeply ironic about the fact that a book which contains the line 'someone must stand guard over the past' itself seems to have no memory of past conflicts and the literature they have spawned which make the same points that this one does and, arguably, with more power. The Spanish Civil War, post-war Germany, post-Occupation France, South Africa, a whole host of post-colonial countries, and, closer to home, Northern Ireland, have all left former enemies living together as neighbours in a supposed community where secrets, lies and horrors remain unspoken but not forgotten. This book seems to have forgotten that, and acts as if this is a revelation it has to make.

That's not to say there isn't some very good stuff here, telling moments that work very well: the tourists complaining about the too-bright lights unaware that the months of candlelight have left some people determined never to experience that darkness again; the way the crossing out of one word for bread in a bakery window and its substitution by another carries a huge freight of meaning.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply perceptive and unsettling. 30 May 2013
By Aval01
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I recently spent two years living and working in Croatia and I struggled to understand the social tensions and secrets in the community around me - sensing the conspiracy of silence in the presence of outsiders, of things unsaid - a hidden but unspoken history hinted at by the abandoned chuches, empty houses and smashed memorials, conversations left unfinished. I left Croatia feeling deeply frustrated by my inability, with a few notable exceptions, to penetrate the truth of the war and the fall out from the 90's conflict. What part did my neighbours and colleagues play at the time, and how can the modern community live with these events?
What makes Aminitta Forna's novel so remarkable is that she articulates the dark, unsavoury forces that used religion, patriotism and ethnicity as their justification for atrocities that tore the community apart, and the unspoken collusion of all sides to maintain the secrets into the present day as the perpetrators and their victims still live side by side. This is fiction at its best, an engrossing narrative but also deeply insightful. This is a novel that challenges the "Year in Provence" cliché of wealthy house-buying northern Europeans meeting poor eccentric locals under the bucolic warmth of the Mediterranean sun. Aminitta Forna cleverly subverts this "summer reading" form to force us to ask questions about the fragility of modern European society and human nature itself. Through the relationship between the naive English newcomers and their hired handyman, the central character of the novel. old wounds are unwittingly opened and the community is forced to confront itself in a narrative that draws the reader deeper and deeper in at an inexorable pace. For the Krajina region of Croatia read also Northern Ireland, Rwanda and many other conflict zones. A dark book, but none the less rewarding and engrossing.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I very much enjoyed Aminatta Forna's Orange-shortlisted 'The Memory of Love', although I had some reservations about the ending, so I was eager to get my hands on her latest novel. Although, superficially, 'The Hired Man' seems to contrast with her earlier novel - set in a fictional, isolated Croatian village rather than in postwar Sierra Leone - its major themes are very similar. Gost may seem sleepy on the surface, but underneath, a kind of collective turmoil is brewing as the villagers struggle to come to terms with the experience of the civil wars of the 1990s. Our narrator, Duro Kolak, is a wonderful guide to this uneasy truce, a genuine, warm and kind man whom it is difficult not to like. When Laura and her teenage children Matthew and Grace arrive from England to move into the 'blue house' - which, unknown to them, is the incubator for many of the painful memories the villagers are still nursing - it is Duro who befriends and defends them against the hostility of many of the other inhabitants. Gradually, however, the suffering in his past is revealed as well, as he works through his reasons for deciding to stay in Gost rather than fleeing to Zagreb with his mother and sister.

It is Duro's voice that really makes this novel. Although much of the content feels familiar, the gentle narrative makes it utterly compelling. Forna masterfully weaves together the past and present history of Gost, tracking the same swells and falls, so we feel as if Duro's story is carried along on a series of small waves. A lesser writer would have adopted Laura's perspective, but Duro allows us to see the tiny details of everyday life that reveal what lurks beneath the surface in Gost, details that the oblivious Laura misses entirely.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars An average read
This was an interesting read. My main disappointment with the book was that it lacked any explanation of the causes Behring the War in Croatia.
A.P. Reading
Published 3 months ago by A. P. In Reading U.K.
5.0 out of 5 stars One War is as bad as any other!
Nothing but a brief comment on this book would do, or is necessary. It is a brilliant read that is exceptional if atypical. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sqn Ldr Winston Forde
3.0 out of 5 stars Runs out of steam in the middle.
This is a well written novel and at the outset I was enjoying it and enthusiastic about the journey, but somehow, as it progresses it runs out of steam. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Hamstead
4.0 out of 5 stars A book about survival and consequences
I was surprised to find that the latest of Aminatta's books was set in Croatia, as her previous works, like the author herself, were African themed, and some say, partly... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Miss J. M. Austin
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't live up to expectations
The Hired man is the story of Duro Kolak. Set in a fictional town in Croatia it tells the story of one summer when an English dysfunctional family arrive in Gost and take up... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Josephine69
4.0 out of 5 stars ' At the time of writing I am forty-six years old. My name is Duro...
'Laura came to Gost in the last week of July.'

Aminatta Forna's narrator is hunter and handy man Duro, the hired man of the title. Read more
Published 10 months ago by purpleheart
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended
What this novel manages to do exceptionally well is convey the realities of life in Croatia. It is emotive and engaging. Read more
Published 10 months ago by D. P. Mankin
3.0 out of 5 stars Literary fiction
I don't usually choose the kind of tome which gets nominated for the Booker prize. However, I read a wonderful article by the author in the Guardian this month about the craft of... Read more
Published 11 months ago by T. Bently
4.0 out of 5 stars As the past comes into focus
Set in a small quiet Croatian town this is the story of Duro who has lived much of his life there and an English family who arrive one summer to live in and renovate an old... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Totnes Nigel
4.0 out of 5 stars Croatian Odyssey
Aminatta Forna's The Hired Man is an accomplished and imaginative novel set in the backwoods of Croatia. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Arthur Dooley
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