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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 14 May 2002
I enjoyed this book for several reasons. Firstly the quality of the writing which captures the essence of an African childhood and beautifully portrays events through the eyes of a child, without loosing any of the journalistic rigour.
Secondly the sadness and the depth of the central story itself and the strength of mind it must have taken to revisit such a painful past, to seek out the truth.
It is a truly good read, I could not put it down, Even when I had finished I wondered about the impact of this story not only on one woman, but on a country.
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on 20 July 2002
Aminatta Forna seamlessly links the Sierra Leone of the 50's and 60's with the 90's and in so doing gives the reader the beginnings of an understanding of the reasons for the turmoils in that country. Reading this book was the catalyst to further research to understand the issues in Sierra Leone today. You do need to have an eye for detail as the latter part of the book does introduce, from necessity a whole host of characters who in turn were willing to discuss their part in the fate of Aminatta's gifted doctor father. An excellent read which brings you right into the family of Aminatta as a young child in Africa and Scotland, and latterly into her life as a successful British journalist living in London and researching in Sierra Leone.
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on 10 February 2006
Reading this book made me cry because my Dad was also arrested at that time but was released without charge because he was away at the said date of the said meeting.
I applaud you Aminatta because of your courage,love and undeniable strength of spirit in writing this book. It is a vivid account of the modern face/history of Sierra Leone from our own perspective. I mean a Sierra Leonean perpective, because we've lived it, felt all the pain and anguish of the Sierra Leone of today founded on the grounds of coruption, deceit, selfishness and thirst for absolute power, incepted by Siaka Stevens and Co.
I am still hopeful for the best. S.Leone will one day be a place of peace as She once was. Aminatta, despite all that has happened we are still poducts of this beautiful country I therefore see it as a special mission to help the people develop in a positive way,in a non-political contribution. Many thanks.
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on 5 October 2002
A story of cultures clashing and blending. Beautifuly written by a talented writer who is a product of two of these cultures.
Dr. Forna, Aminetta's father, a surgeon from Sierra Leone, met and married her Scottish mother when studying in Aberdeen. Aminetta recalls an early childhood in Scotland as well as a later childhood in Sierra Leone. With a blend of tenderness and harsh reality she remembers the best and the worst of these experiences.
Characters once thought to be mean and threatening are recognised through more mature eyes to be simply those who thwarted a childhood insistence on having everything her own way. Scoundrels are recognised, but with a keen insight into the human frailties that make them such.
Dr. Forna's love for his country led him to accept a leadership role in governing it. It is Aminetta Forna's search for the facts surounding his rise and eventual tragic fall that is the essence of this narrative.
Not only a talented observer Ms. Forna has a knack for exquisite expression in relating the facts uncovered.
As a reader I found myself giving a great sigh as I concluded the final page late at night feeling I had personally lived every instance.
Emmett Evans
British Virgin Islands
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on 24 June 2002
...I bought this book after reading reviews in The Economist and the Financial Times - not the sort of places you would imagine normally cover childhood memoirs. The reason is simple - it is much more than a chronicle of childhood. It is the story of Africa's slide into chaos and the people - the real people, not the anonymous victims we see on our televisions - whose lives are destroyed. Aminatta Forna's father, a medical doctor who entered politics and was one of the best of his generation, attempted to stand up to a dictator and sacrificed his own life. His daughter's childhood was sacrificed at the same time. But she meticulously and movingly writes them both back into life in a memoir which is defiant, harrowing and ultimately uplifting.
It is a great story - and a universal one. It isn't really about Africa at all - although you will learn a great deal about that continent and its fate - it really is about inhumanity, humanity, courage and the quest for truth.
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on 11 December 2006
Aminatta Forna's memoir is more than just an autobiography. It is simultaneously a poignant and moving true tale of her family's past and also an empassioned account of modern West African political history.

Aminatta is the youngest of three children of a father from Sierra Leone who trained in medicine in Aberdeen, Scotland, and a Scottish mother. Her story takes in the movements of her family from her birth in Aberdeen and the family's move to Sierra Leone, and works through the developments when her father, a dedicated and altrusitic doctor, is drawn into the political process in an attempt to bring democracy to his country, which has moved from colonialism to uni-party politics from autocrats and dictators. The desperate corruption of despots and the quashing of political dissent are drawn with shocking candour and palpable emotion.

Along the way, Forna paints a vivid picture of a vast continent teeming with beautiful natural life - barren, dust-laden expanses of land, rural Africans living a life similar to that led by their ancestors centuries ago, and wildlife such as ants and snakes teeming across the dry parched land. She paints fascinating pictures of rural village life and ancient traditions such as chieftancy elections and the hierarchies of multiple wives.

Forna writes well and expresses with potency the feelings and thoughts of a young girl watching her father. There are funny anecdotes from her youth as well as moving and traumatic ones, and she captures the innocence of childhood with ease.

The stories from the days when her father practised medicine for long hours in his clinic are fascinating because of the contrast with our own western practice, and his dedication to helping others comes through clearly.

The passages dealing with the life Forna's parents led in Aberdeen before moving to Sierra Leone have echoes of Andrea Levy's Small Island, with the same shaming examples of racism and ignorance such as No Blacks notices up in rooms up for rent. Yet, as with Levy, this is expressed without rancour or bitterness and balanced by accounts of others who greeted them with affection and tolerance.

This must have been a difficult book to write as re-living some of the dreadful tragedies must have been harrowing. But Forna manages to keep the mood from becoming maudlin, interspersing the grittier tales with sweet stories from her youth. An excellent example of the political made personal, this book is a must for anyone wanting to learn more about recent African history.

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Autobiography, where the author revisits her childhood; as daughter of a Sierra Leone doctor and his Scottish wife, life becomes highly dangerous when her father becomes involved in politics. She recalls moving between her middle class African life and living in a caravan in Scotland. But while her father rises in the ranks of Sierra Leone government, his party overthrowing the corrupt ruling one, it's not long before his former colleagues become even more corrupt....
The latter quarter or so of this work is taken up by the author returning to her country to attempt to decipher the lies and violence that surrounded her father's death, in an anarchic and utterly corrupt regime.
Very moving and informative work. I found her investigation a tad hard to wade through; I thought the book would profit from an index so one could remind oneself who all the characters were. But extremely well written.
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on 28 December 2004
I first decided to read this book after meeting with refugees from Sierra Leone who are now living in The Gambia. This story gave me another insight to the plight of those without a country,home or family to return too.
The writing of Aminata gave me the story that I had heard from the lips of refugees, along with more knowledge about the conflict, horror and betrayal that surrounded alot of people.
I have gained so much from this book that it has inspired me to read more about this country in the hope that they find the peace and country that most of the Sierra Leoneans want and need. The refugees that I have met all want to return to their motherland but still do not believe that it is safe to do so. They have lost touch with loved ones for many years and most of them do not have the monies or wherewithall to begin their search. Aminata tells of the length of time one must spend waiting for people to give them the information needed to find out important information about their families history, I now, from the strength of this one woman intend to try to help others find their own families.
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on 3 June 2002
Although this book tells ultimately of the corruption leading to the mass betrayal and the execution of a politically prinicpled man (Mohammed Forna, the author's father), the reader gets a very clear picture of a child's-eye view of Sierra Leone and of the upheaval of her childhood in different countries (which she accepts as normal).
Whilst Book 1 is dedicated to this child's view, in Book 2 the author is an adult trying to make sense of what happened to her father and how it happened. I was moved to tears at the end of the book with the overriding image of a child who saw her father as a hero and could not make sense of why anyone would want to take him away from her. I also learned a lot about Sierra Leone's past and now do not only have media images of amputees and drug crazed child-soldiers in my head, but also of sunshine and pleasures and real people and the potential that existed and still exists today.
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on 21 July 2013
This is a very personal story of Aminatta's amazing life, but it also does more to explain the problems of the transition from colony to a democratic country than anything else, ever. Aminatta sees and describes the thinking in the people who failed to run the country adequately, and those that brought them to power, while all the time telling how she and her family, and those around them experienced the consequences.

This should be required reading for anyone involved in reporting on war in Africa, and probably anywhere else where levels of literacy are low. I would recommend it to anyone travelling to West Africa for any reason, and most definitely anyone with freinds from Sierra Leone.
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