Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna

Duro is off on a morning’s hunt when he sees something one rarely does in Gost: a strange car. Later that day, he overhears its occupants, a British woman, Laura, and her two children, who have taken up residence in a house Duro knows well. He offers his assistance getting their water working again, and soon he is at the house every day, helping get it ready as their summer cottage, and serving as Laura’s trusted confidant.

But the other residents of Gost are not as pleased to have the interlopers, and as Duro and Laura’s daughter Grace uncover and begin to restore a mosaic in the front that has been plastered over, Duro must be increasingly creative to shield the family from the town’s hostility, and his own past with the house’s former occupants. As the inhabitants of Gost go about their days, working, striving to better themselves and their town, and arguing, the town’s volatile truths whisper ever louder.

This excellent novel tells the tale of one small town in Croatia trying to come to terms with its wartime history. Newly arrived from England, Laura and her family see a lovely town where they cam built a summer home and a future business. Handyman Duro sees the town where he grew up superimposed with the blood-soaked memories of the war. He has complicated relationships with two other men in the town, relationships that become more clear as the story of Gost unfolds. Laura wants to see only Gost as it could be, while Duro can't escape from Gost as it was. Having lived in the region, I think Forna does an excellent job laying out the complex and painful efforts of the war's survivors to come to terms with the ethnic cleansing that turned neighbor against neighbor. Highly recommended.

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