Booklist Reviews

Set in and around a small Croatian village, Forna's (The Memory of Love, 2011) accomplished and intricate novel explores the effects of war and the endurance and significance of memory. The town of Gost is the lifelong home to 46-year-old narrator Duro Kolak, a hunter and handyman. It's the summer of 2007 when a woman from Britain, Laura, arrives in Gost with her two teenage children, Grace and Matthew. Having purchased a long-abandoned house at the edge of town, Laura has come to fix it up to use as a summer getaway. Duro offers his services for hire, quickly befriending the family and acting as a local guide. When the remains of a mosaic are uncovered beneath a wall of plaster, Duro helps Grace with its meticulous restoration, while deflecting suspicions of the townspeople, who grow increasingly wary of the outsiders. As the house's restoration becomes entwined with Duro's recollections of his past, Forna leads readers to the gradual, raw revelation of a town devastated by war and haunted by the aftermath. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews

Wartime secrets left behind

In the 1990s, a war in Sierra Leone killed tens of thousands of people and shattered the country. Yet writer Aminatta Forna, who is from Sierra Leone, has dedicated her absorbing new novel, The Hired Man, to that other 1990s war-torn region, Yugoslavia, thus subtly illuminating the prolonged aftereffects of all wars.

Duro is a Croat living in the ghostly town of Gost. One day, an Englishwoman named Laura arrives with her son and daughter. Laura has purchased an old house, and enlists Duro’s help in refurbishing it—including uncovering an obscured mosaic. The gradual unveiling of its contents mirrors Duro’s gradual revelations about the area’s violent past.

At first, that past seems far away. Duro’s present life is unremarkable. He likes his coffee and daily exercise, delights in repairs and ends his days with a beer at the local pub. He becomes fond, even protective, of Laura and her children, and shares with them his country’s natural treasures, including endless fields of wildflowers. But beneath the calm beauty is pain: The wildflowers exist because the fields are mine-strewn and thus off-limits. Eventually we learn that Duro participated in the fighting, that the ownership of Laura’s house is contentious and that she is acutely vulnerable to the area’s lingering animosities.

Forna’s decision to write from the perspective of a Croatian man is risky, but Duro is exceedingly convincing: melancholy, not maudlin; stoical, not hard-boiled. He tries to be hospitable and open to Laura while playing down his loss. “Laura,” he muses, “was one of those people who preferred the music of a lie to the discordance of truth.” His memories of the war are an impressive record of the so-called banality of evil.

Nowadays, Croatia’s beaches are as popular as the war was abhorrent, but Forna’s point is taken. Whether you’re gazing at Angkor Wat, dining in once-occupied Paris or having your burek and rakija in Gost, you’re standing on haunted ground.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews

English tourists visiting a small Croatian village unwittingly stir up memories of the past, a legacy of horror which still holds the locals in its thrall, in a persuasive tale of silent secrets. Dark and troubling, this novel by award-winning British-based writer Forna (The Memory of Love, 2011, etc.) returns to the territory of tragedy and aftermath, this time in Europe, where the beauties of a summer cottage in Gost, a village in Croatia, are undercut by recollections of the terrible events that mar the community's conscience. Narrated by the titular hired man, Duro, who offers to help the visitors repair the blue house they have bought as a holiday home, it is a story of slow, incremental animosities that find full expression once war descends on the village. Duro, a taciturn loner, once had a happy life in Gost, complete with a family, friends and a secret romance with Anka. But the couple's betrayal forces Duro to leave and, on his return, 10 years later, Anka is married to another. Restoring the blue house, where Anka lived, reminds Duro of the somber events he has both witnessed and perpetrated, as well as evoking intense responses from other villagers. Forna's storytelling is beautifully paced, chilly and brooding in tone, and powerfully gripping. The miasma of foreboding hanging over the book is finally explained in a haunting conclusion that takes the long view. A low-key but sophisticated portrait of history--and evil--at a local level. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews

Commonwealth Writers' Prize winner Forna, who wrote affectingly about war-scarred Africa in two previous novels and a memoir, now writes affectingly about the Croatian city of Gost after independence. When a British woman and her two children arrive in town for the summer, Duro helps them ready their cottage, But his real job is protecting them from the townspeople's deep-seated dislike.

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Library Journal Reviews

Set in Croatia, this mesmerizing novel examines the aftermath of war and genocide. Protagonist Duro Kolak takes a job making repairs to a house bought by a British family as an investment in the appropriately named town of Gost. These outsiders are clueless about the horrors of the town's past, unable to see beyond its pastoral beauty and income potential. As a mosaic is uncovered at the house, Duro must deal with his memories of a time when friends betrayed one another and loved ones disappeared. What's most interesting about this story is its portrayal of how those who survive atrocities must learn how to continue to live together. Duro manages by living alone with his dogs and exacting petty revenge when possible. The character's loneliness and his sense of loss are palpable, and his relationship with his pets is moving. Forna's own father, a political dissident, was executed in Sierra Leone when she was a child. The loss hovers over her writings and is the subject of her memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water. VERDICT Highly recommended and likely to find appreciation among fans of Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, another tale of friendship and betrayal. [See Prepub Alert, 4/22/13.]—Evelyn Beck, Piedmont Technical Coll., Greenwood, SC

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Publishers Weekly Reviews

In this moving novel from Forna (The Memory of Love), the scars left by the Croatian War of Independence underlie a deceptively simple account of a Croat developing a relationship with foreigners moving into his village. Exactly what Duro Kolak experienced in the fighting that enveloped Gost, his small town, is only hinted at for much of the book, creating a suspenseful backdrop. As the story opens in 2007, Duro meets Laura, an Englishwoman who has arrived in Gost with her family to start a new life. He offers her his assistance, even as other locals are less than pleased to have the newcomers around. Forna does an exquisite job of contrasting her leads' perspectives on Gost—Laura thinks it's "one of the most beautiful places" she's ever been, while Duro sees past the tranquil surface to the region's blood-soaked recent past. This is a powerful exploration of the impact that violence has on those who suffer it and those who inflict it. Agent: David Godwin, David Godwin Associates. (Oct.)

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