Julie Christine's Reviews > Happiness

Happiness by Aminatta Forna
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"How do we become human except in the face of adversity?"

This elegantly written and richly cast novel speaks of adversity, both personal and political, that tests our willingness to greet the world with compassion, to believe in the possibility of happiness.

Attila Asare, a Ghanian psychiatrist and expert on PTSD, and Jean Turane, an American wildlife biologist, meet by chance, and then chance again, in central London. Jean is living in London, conducting a study on the urban fox phenomenon; Attila is passing through to present at a conference, yet his connections to the city run much deeper. His ex-lover is fading away at a care facility in the suburbs, Alzheimer's corroding her brain. And as he arrives in London, he receives word that his niece has been detained by immigration and her young son has run off, disappearing into the February cold and dark.

It is the search for the boy, Tano, that unites this unlikely pair and brings to the foreground a cast of supporting characters. These characters — hotel employees, garbage collectors, street buskers, the homeless — are themselves immigrants, all making their way in a shadow economy far from the glittering highrises and bespoke suits of the storied British city.

The narrative moves from present to recent to mythical past, tracing the lines of a wolf hunter in Massachusetts in the early nineteenth century, the demise of Jean's marriage and her quest to save coyotes in New England in the mid-oughts, and Attila's work as a hostage negotiator and trauma specialist in war zones from Bosnia to Sierra Leone to Iraq. Despite the breadth of its landscapes, Happiness is the story of what happens deep inside the heart after grief and loss, after love has come and gone. And possibly come again. It is also deeply political, delving into human migration, animal conservation, and war. There are so many layers of theme and character and much of the narrative relies on coincidence to move it forward, yet Forna keeps this all spinning in delicate orbit with sublime writing and wonderful characters.

It was paradoxical, but nevertheless true that in this life and in his career Attila had often observed joy amongst those who had suffered most: it was what life gave in exchange for the pain.

An excellent read. Highly recommended.
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Reading Progress

November 26, 2017 – Shelved
November 26, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
April 15, 2018 – Started Reading
April 20, 2018 –
page 85
23.1% "This is outstanding so far!"
April 24, 2018 – Shelved as: africa-theme-setting
April 24, 2018 – Shelved as: best-of-2018
April 24, 2018 – Shelved as: british-isles-theme-setting
April 24, 2018 – Shelved as: read-2018
April 24, 2018 – Shelved as: war-conflict
April 24, 2018 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Dean (new) - added it

Dean Julie, wonderful review...

Julie Christine Dean wrote: "Julie, wonderful review..."

Thank you so much, Dean!

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