Aminatta FOrna

Happiness, a novel
  • 2018
  • Atlantic Monthly Press (USA), Bloomsbury (UK)
  • Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, iBook, Audio


A "Best Books of 2018"

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Waterloo Bridge, London. Two strangers collide. Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist, and Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes. From this chance encounter in the midst of the rush of a great city, numerous moments of connections span out and interweave, bringing disparate lives together.

Attila has arrived in London with two tasks: to deliver a keynote speech on trauma and to check up on the daughter of friends, his 'niece,' Ama, who hasn't called home in a while. It soon emerges that she has been swept up in an immigration crackdown—and now her young son Tano is missing. When, by chance, Attila bumps into Jean again, she joins him in his search for Tano, mobilizing into action the network she has built up, mainly from the many West African immigrants working London's myriad streets, of volunteer fox-spotters: security guards, hotel doormen, traffic wardens. All unite to help and as the search continues, a deepening friendship between Attila and Jean unfolds.

In this delicate yet powerful novel of loves lost and new, of past griefs and of the hidden side of a multicultural metropolis, Aminatta Forna asks us to consider the values of the society we live in, our co-existence with one another and all living creatures—and the true nature of happiness.

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Reviews and Praise for Happiness

"In the richness of its urban portrait and the nuance of its narrative, Happiness makes clear that life is always complex and happiness is not a cure-all. This is a book about humanity's glorious, irreducible mess; a book filled with grief, largesse and joy. It is not about escapism, or about making us feel good; rather it is about making us feel everything." Times Literary Supplement

"Forna's fourth novel, Happiness, is a comprehensive tale of love, prejudicial conflict, coexistence between man and nature, and the success we invite when we embrace good and bad experiences." LA Review of Books

"Happiness: An exquisite novel about how chance and love connect us." The Washington Post

"Sprawling yet composed, worldly yet intimate, it is a tender evocation of the kaleidoscopic nature of the urban wilderness, as well as a challenge to the imposed centrality of the human animal." Diane Evans, The Guardian

"Happiness asks us to think about the interconnectedness of lives both human and animal, about what we choose to see and ignore as we move through the city, about the power of small acts of decency. In Attila and Jean, Forna has created two memorable characters; in her portrayal of London, she has achieved something more remarkable—a vision of the city so vivid and multilayered that it becomes the novel's central figure. There is no single ‘somewhere,' Forna is telling us, but multiple, overlapping somewheres which all of us, wherever we're from, and however long we remain there, may seek to call home." Alex Preston, The Observer

"A new understanding of the role that personal connection, as well as suffering, plays in the human spirit." The New Yorker

"Happiness is one of a handful of contemporary novels that take both the human condition and the animal condition seriously. Entering Forna's sweeping universe transports you to a place that feels familiar, but also totally feral and full of surprises." Financial Times

"What is a life without incident? Is that possible? How can we become human except in the face of adversity? Aminatta Forna's characters tell us that we can't control anything. That happiness is in the drop, the adventure and in hope." Le Monde

"This is not a novel that believes in happiness. Instead, it submits the very idea that happiness is something we are born deserving to sustained and lacerating critique. It argues that a society that lives under glass, that is terrified of any outcome it cannot control, will permit all sorts of cruelties towards those, whether feral animals or undocumented migrants, who are out of place: whose mere presence threatens to undo the peace and order. That way lies the mob, the pogroms, the burnings." The Australian

"Forna's finely structured novel powerfully succeeds on [an] intimate scale as its humane characters try to navigate scorching everyday cruelties." New York Times (Editor's Choice)

"Low-key yet piercingly empathetic, Forna's latest explores instinct, resilience, and the complexity of human coexistence, reaffirming her reputation for exceptional ability and perspective." Kirkus Reviews (Starred)

"Happiness is full of elegantly-written passages that you will want to revisit to make sense of changing circumstances in an increasingly tumultuous world." The London Evening Standard

"'Trauma does not equal destiny.' Forna circles this contention, exploring emotional scars, resilience and grief as well as the healing power of love, friendship and community. Her path is never straight, she doubles back, crisscrosses and circles; she approaches the thought from elliptical angles, bringing moments of startling clarity. This walk is never dull." Lucy Atkins, The Sunday Times

"Registers tectonic shifts taking place in the world and provokes us to think anew about war, and what we take for peace and happiness." The Spectator

"She brings a cosmopolitan world view and a beautiful prose style to this novel, as well as deep insight into how we connect and adapt to the world, or don't." Tampa Bay Times

"Forna's prose is precise and often stunning in its clarity. Attila asks directions from ‘a young man with pellucid eyes, moonscape skin and an Adam's apple that threatened to break through the surface of his neck like a shark's fin through still water." The Seattle Times

"Crammed with both big, intriguing ideas and strong, quiet ambition." San Francisco Chronicle

"A hymn to the adaptability of the human spirit." Country & Town House

"Happiness is both a love story and an exploration of the potential for trauma to cause not just damage, but resilience." BBC, 'Ten Books to Read in 2018'

"Aminatta Forna's latest novel, Happiness, tells the story of Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist, and Jean, an American studying the habits of urban foxes. It's a powerfully affecting examination of the immigrant experience and turns upon the disappearance of a child on London's dark and unforgiving streets." The Guardian/Observer, 'Best Fiction for 2018'

"It is a novel that carries a tremendous sense of the world, where I looked up upon finishing and sensed a shift in what I thought I knew, what I wanted to know. What a gift." The Millions, 'Most Anticipate Books of 2018'

"Happiness takes quotidian societal problems like racism, illegal hunting, and faulty government and wreathes them with personal issues such as mourning the deaths of wives and past lovers, Aminatta Forna has given us a pertinent novel, one whose prose is fluid and dynamic."

"Overturned all my previous notions about what happiness is and how it can be achieved."

"Aminatta Forna has crafted a complex and deeply human story. African in its worldview of convergence and simultaneity, yet universal in its range of possibility and choice. Nuanced and delightful, this story takes place inside the reader's own nostalgia. Gorgeous." Chris Abani, author of The Secret History of Las Vegas

"Aminatta Forna expertly weaves her characters' stories, past and present, in and out of the larger story of London, which becomes as rich a character as the human beings and, indeed, the foxes; and she makes us care deeply about them all, the foxes, the people and the city. A terrific novel." Salman Rushdie

"One of the best novels I've read in quite a while—intelligent, deep and poignant. It sheds smooth, unflinching light upon the unseen. Forna is at the top of her game." Rabih Alameddine, author of The Angel of History and An Unnecessary Woman

"From the understated and inexorable pull of plot and emotion to the luxuriousness of the details of varied ways of living and being to the tidal pull of language, Happiness is a great accomplishment." Viet Thanh Nguyen

"A deeply moving novel about love, trauma and the ties that bind us together. Beautifully written and ingeniously allegorical. Aminatta Forna is a writer of phenomenal talent, with a clear eye, a fearless voice, and an extraordinary range." Laila Lalami, author of The Moor's Account

"Her prose quietly grips us by the throat and then tightens its hold. It is storytelling at its most taut ... A gifted writer." Independent

"The best writer of fiction in this field ... The intelligence of Forna's storytelling is testament to a woman who has deep emotional resources." Evening Standard

"A fresh, immaculate stylist and an unsparing chronicler of human vices ... Profound." The Times