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Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna: Review

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*Bloomsbury India sent me a copy of The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna to read and write about.

The first thing that struck me about the book was the gorgeous cover. It is a beautifully illustrated cover, very old stylish and simplistic, yet artistic and just plain gorgeous! I loved the detailing and the mix of colours. Very pretty cover.

The details about the book:
Title: The Hired Man
Author: Aminatta Forna
No. of Pages: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Year Published: 2013

About the story:

The novel is set around the year 2007, with memories that take the reader back in time.

The Hired Man is essentially a story of memories, of new relationships being formed, and the aftermath of war on those who are left behind. The story is set in the quiet Croatian town of Gost, a beautiful place that is surrounded by nature. In this quiet town arrives a stranger with her two teenaged kids. Next to her home, lives a man with his two hunting dogs, who are all the company he needs.

As the man helps the stranger re-build her home, memories start coming out of unexpected places, memories that will unravel many things that were better kept a secret.

Our narrator, Duro, has lived his entire life in the town of Gost. One morning, he sees a car driving into town. Gost being a small town where everyone knows everyone, a stranger is easily spotted. Duro learns that the person who drove in the car is named Laura, that she has arrived with her two teenaged kids, and that she is here to stay. She becomes Duro's neighbour, living in the 'blue' house that she says her husband bought and she is seeing for the first time.

The 'blue' house has been empty for ages, and belonged to Duro's friend Kresimir, who has now sold it to Laura and her husband. 

Laura needs someone to help her with the restoration of the house, and Duro, being a handyman, helps her out. He becomes the 'hired man.'

I will not go any further in the story, as the novel is layered with twists and turns and suspense. I leave you to find that out for yourself and enjoy it the way I did.

My take on the novel:

The story begins when the main character, Duro, decides to write a diary that will be kind of a memoir.
'At the time of writing I am forty-six years old. My name is Duro Kulak.'

One of the first things that I realised even before I had reached halfway through the story was that the author, Aminatta Forna, is a brilliant storyteller. Not only can she spin a web of words, she can bring to life nature, surroundings and the sights, sounds and smell of a land that is alien to you. I have never been to the region that the author describes in the novel, yet, I felt like I could feel the coffee brewing, the herbs in the morning and the flowers in the fresh breeze. All this through a story of a place I have never been to. Her descriptions are so vivid and beautiful and strong that it makes you want to pack your bags and immediately go and live there, take a vacation, hike in the woods, head out in the unknown and get a cottage for yourself, in the quiet town of Gost!
The 'voice' of the story shifts from present to past, as Duro shifts from talking about the now to talking about his family and that of Kresimir's, when they were kids and lived here. There is absolutely no difficulty in connecting the past to the present and the time shift is not confusing at all. Both the time frames capture the story of the moment perfectly, and the reader is taken inside a suspense that builds up with each page. The author beautifully merges the past and the present, connecting all the dots and creating a full-blown picture that unravels in the end.

I loved the way that Forna brings her characters to life. Whether it is their clothing, their eating habits, daily routines or thought process, the author manages to give each individual a distinct identity, and you slowly start feeling yourself a part of the community, a part of the neighbourhood.

From the start when Duro meets Laura, he finds himself getting attracted to her. This is another angle that the author has beautifully developed. This is not your typical man sees woman finds attractive falls in love kind of scenario. It has so much depth and intensity and maturity in it that you actually wonder if you could put a hand on Duro's shoulder and just talk to him.

The author's voice through Duro is brilliantly used to give us a glimpse into everything, without being a know-all. You get every detail and are as good as being present right there in the middle of the 'blue' house and Duro's house, as well as being around in the town.

I absolutely loved the character of Duro, and would someday want to meet him in person (I wish!). He is a quiet man, with a keen eye and a keen sense of his surroundings. His life with his hunting dogs and his life in the woods is drawn perfectly by the author. Later on in the story, when Duro forms an endearing relationship with Laura's daughter Grace, it is beautiful to see how the older man instills confidence and trust in the young girl. It is Grace who will keep the story alive even after the book has ended.

This is a brilliantly written, intelligent, observant and vividly luscious book that I suggest you definitely read. For me, it gives me a slice of life in a part of the world I have never been to. As I read the story, I lived in that neighbourhood, I lived in that town, and I took in the sights and smells of nature and all the beauty around me. I will clearly say that this is one the most visually appealing reads I have read in recent times.

I give it 5 hearts, the most I can give

- Debolina Raja Gupta