Aminatta FOrna

The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion
  • 2021
  • Grove Press
  • Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
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The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion

A TIME magazine Pick of the Month, May 2021

An Orion Magazine Recommendation, Spring 2021

A LitHub "Best Reviewed Books", May 2021

Aminatta Forna is one of our most important literary voices, and her novels have won the Windham Campbell Prize Literature Prize and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best Book. Now, she returns with The Window Seat, an elegantly rendered, thought-provoking collection of new and previously published essays. In this wide-ranging collection, Forna writes intimately about displacement, trauma and memory, love, and how we coexist and encroach on the non-human world.

In "Obama and the Renaissance Generation," she documents how, despite the narrative of Obama's exceptionalism, his father, like her own, was one of a generation of gifted young Africans who came to the United Kingdom and the United States for education and were expected to build their home countries anew after colonialism. In "The Last Vet," time spent shadowing Dr. Jalloh, the only veterinarian in Sierra Leone, as he works with the street dogs of Freetown, becomes a meditation on what a society’s treatment of animals tells us about its principles. In "Crossroads," she examines race in America from an African perspective, and in "Power Walking" she describes what it means to walk in the world in a Black woman’s body.

Reviews and praise for The Window Seat

"Forna's Notes from a Life in Motion gorgeously enlarges the reader's world... [S]he is an expert synthesizer, linking varied topics from family history to literary theory to the rise and fall of empire with her intimate and conversational prose style... Forna's work is an excellent contribution to discourses on women’s embodied experiences of public space, centering an intersectional, Black feminist perspective. In this time of global pandemic, climate catastrophe, and international protests against racism and police brutality, Forna's seventeen essays center the myriad complexities and traumas of the day. They are equally joyful, tender, and brimming with affection... works of magnitude and bond, in allegiance with her vast beloved community." World Literature Today

"It may just be the perfect post-pandemic read, and Forna the ideal post-pandemic writer." Washington Independent Review of Books

"A dynamic tapestry of resonant topics...Forna retains a lightness of touch and depth of insight in her writing, alongside perceptible senses of both self-awareness and humor...Forna has a clear aptitude for being at home wherever she lands, whether that might be in Iran on the cusp of revolution as a Che Guevara-sweatshirt-sporting-teenager; in rural Massachusetts and suburban Virginia as a visiting professor; or exploring her mother’s family's roots in Shetland. ...Forna has a fine command over both language and life—her sense of agency is pleasurably palpable—and her vivid, keenly observed anecdotes make her tendency toward hope all the more reassuring. Her perceptive investigation of the meaning of home and its multiple locations is perhaps most concisely expressed in 'In Timbuktu,' a gem of a story that, at a mere 75 words, is replete with a joy for life in all its vagaries, idiocies, and human connectivity, a fitting microcosm of this evocative, provocative essay collection." The Boston Globe

"Forna's ruminations are deeply felt yet unsentimental....[her] window-seat view is that of a 'light sleeper' and 'lucid dreamer,' whose wide-ranging subjects chart a path toward a kind of freedom, to be at home, always elsewhere." The New York Times

"It's an essay collection... that takes us from Sierra Leone to the Shetland Islands, from Iran in 1978 on the verge of revolution to a Whole Foods outside Washington, D.C., in 2020. Bookstores are filled with personal essay collections; this one, by roving both farther and deeper than most, stands above." Los Angeles Times

"In Forna's first book of nonfiction since her 2002 memoir The Devil That Danced on the Water, the novelist ruminates on experiences throughout her life to tackle questions surrounding identity and belonging. The pieces in her new collection range in subject and scope, from shadowing the lone veterinarian in Sierra Leone to drawing connections between Barack Obama's life and her father's to describing her experience walking all over the world as a Black woman. The result is a moving examination of places and people, filled with Forna's carefully constructed observations and analysis." TIME (Pick of the Month)

"The prose is intimate and conversational—'I do not have resting bitch face'—but the feeling of chatting over coffee belies the attention she gives to each sentence." Kirkus

"Novelist Forna (Happiness) explores notions of place, identity, and movement in this bracing collection. In vignettes and long-form essays, she describes traveling through Mali; England, where she went to school; Sierra Leone, where she spent much of her childhood; and the U.S....Full of careful observations, Forna's meditations hit the mark." Publishers Weekly

"Forna reflects on her life and her work as she moves through these different cultures and encounters situations both good and difficult. She discusses race, misogyny, poverty, and environmentalism, in witty and poetic prose." Library Journal

"With this collection, she proves a compelling essayist...her voice direct, lucid and fearless. All the pieces are enjoyable and often surprising. But the most substantial ones are memorable—even unforgettable." Claire Messud for Harper's

"The Window Seat is gutsy, funny, risky and wise, full of dazzling late night insight, in-the-middle-of-everything epiphanies, moments of sheer honesty blooming into gut truths, in a clear-eyed voice that makes you listen in wonder." Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Booker Prize

"These essays, ranging across continents and time, so broad in their themes and so deep in their perceptions, are essential reading, combining Aminatta Forna's great gifts as a storyteller and her razor-sharp analytical skills." Salman Rushdie

"These brilliant essays, reflections from a boundary-crossing life, are urgently needed in America right now. Forna writes to us from a world where democracies are in the process of being made and unmade, where 'nation-building is no simple task,'' where lives are lost to civil war. With expert storytelling, she provides a vivid context for our politics and culture. The Window Seat is a wise guidebook for how to be at home in the world." Eula Biss, author of Having and Being Had

"The Window Seat is a journey. Imagine yourself on a scenic, thought-provoking flight around the world—from the UK to New Zealand, Sierra Leone to the USA—in this candid exploration of nostalgia for a lost past and the trappings of home. These essays are altogether a sharp, elegant meditation on childhood, adulthood, race, migration, and itinerancy. Astutely balancing illuminating research with intimate personal anecdotes, Forna expertly suffuses the book with her insights on everything from politics and insomnia to food insecurity and biodiversity." Chinelo Okparanta, author of Under the Udala Trees

"From the Shetlands to Sierra Leone, from Teheran to Georgetown, Aminatta Forna has been everywhere, paid attention to everything and everyone. She is brilliant at thinking in narration and can thus tell superb stories about her life and experience. She contains multitudes, and her essays are populated with those multitudes, dense with unforgettable details and landscapes, amazing people and animals, astonishing histories. The Window Seat is dazzling." Aleksandar Hemon, author of The Lazarus Project

"The essays in this magnificent collection are exhilarating and expansive meditations on traveling—and living—in places so consequential and historically significant that they cannot be measured simply by distance. Who are we far from home? What becomes of those who return, and what do we owe to those who stay behind? These are just a few of the questions that Forna raises in this sharply rendered, personal collection. But she doesn't stop there: by the end, this book invites a reckoning with our rightful place on this earth. Generous in spirit and breathtakingly intelligent, The Window Seat reminds us why Forna is one of our best writers working today." Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King

"Forna's essays are simultaneously introspective and political, big-hearted and hard-edged, adventurous and wise. She can write about race and war and family and loss and everything in between, and she has the words to match her extraordinary experience. This book enlarged my world." Juan Gabriel Vásquez, author of Songs for the Flames