Aminatta Forna – Happiness

aminata-forna-happiness
Aminatta Forna – Happiness

They meet by accident, but somehow they have known each other forever. Attila, a Ghanaian psychiatrist, has come to London to give a speech at a conference. He is a specialist in post-traumatic stress and has seen the worst the world has to offer. But this is not the only thing he has to do there. First of all, he has to find the daughter of some of his friends who hasn’t called for a couple of days and who, together with her son, seems to be missing. Another thing task waiting for him is to visit Rosie, his former colleague and lover. She is in a home, not aware of the world anymore, waiting for her life to come to an end. While Attila is occupied with the humans around him, the American biologist Jean cares a lot more for the animals. Especially foxes around town. She is fighting a hopeless battle against those who want to kill them all and do not understand that this is not how things work with wild animals.

Aminatta Forna’s novel has a title which could hardly fit better: “Happiness”. The whole story is about happiness and the question what you need in life to be happy and what happiness means after all. But maybe it is not happiness that we are looking for, but rather – as one of the characters puts it – hope. Without hope, there is not future, but you can have a whole lot of future without happiness.

Both Jean and Attila are most interesting characters in their very own ways. The author has done a great job in creating them and in opposing them, their view of the world and the way they approach life. They have some similarities, too, their principles and beliefs and the fight for what they believe is the right thing – it is not easily nowadays to find people with such strong convictions.

Yet, what I loved most about the novel were the really poetic ways of unobtrusively talking about life and love in a philosophical way. She captures the fragility of love and our existence in a way that is hard to excel. I really fell for the language in this novel and was waiting eagerly to find more of those passing comments that capture so much truth in this unassuming, shy way:

The reckless open their arms and topple into love, as do dreamers, who fly in their dreams without fear or danger. Those who know that all love must end in loss do not fall but rather cross slowly from the not knowing into the knowing.

It is a bittersweet story, full of love and loss, life and death. And certainly one of the most remarkable novels of this spring.

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Paula Cocozza – How To Be Human

paula-cocozza-how-to-be-human
Paula Cocozza – How to be Human

 

Five months after Mark has left her, Mary still lives in a kind of bubble disconnected from the world around her. She goes to work and returns home, but somehow she is numb and dehumanized. When one evening a fox appears in her garden, she is mesmerized. The animal returns regularly and a bond between the two lonely beings slowly forms. The more Mary feels connected with the wild animal, the more hysterical her neighbours become. They want to kill the foxes, they feel threatened in their own homes and their nerves are on edge. When suddenly Mark shows up again to rescue Mary and to save their relationship, she has to make a decision.

„How to be human“ – it seems to be contradictory to use the contact with a wild animal to illustrate what represents a human being. However, in Mary’s case, the beast helps her to overcome her numbness, to rediscover feelings she once had and the innocence and unassuming attitude of the fox make her become a human again. She feels sympathy with the animal, especially when the whole world seems to be against it. Just like baby Flora she can approach the fox without hesitation and reservation.

The humans apart from Mary do not really make a good impression in the novel. Her neighbours Michelle and Eric are quite egoistic and only think about their habitat and needs. I am not sure if Michelle actually suffers from postpartum depression as mentioned in the novel, to me, she is rather a neurotic egoist. Eric in contrast, is weak, servant and obeys his wife without questioning her decisions. Mark does not play a major role, but the fact that after half a year he realises that life with his wife was better, does not really speak in his favour.

What I liked most were the fox’s thoughts. The author got in his mind convincingly and portrayed his simple and natural character quite well. Considering all the beings, he is the human one, unobtrusive, decent and not demanding anything. Thus, he can help the lonesome and forlorn protagonist to find herself and her strengths again.