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The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna - Review

Friday, November 17, 2023


This was the November choice for my book club so I bought it on eBay for just a few quid and picked it up in early November. I found it quite hard to read so it took me a while. It is partly the subject matter, but it is also because it's told in a complex way. I thought the telling was actually too complex which I found annoying, but I am interested to see what everyone else thinks of it.  We had a special lunch for my book club at the beginning of the month because we were celebrating our tenth anniversary, and it sounded like a few people were struggling with this book. So we will see!

The hero of the book is Duro. The book is set in rural Croatia and the main part of it takes place in the current time, around 2013. Duro lives a pretty ordinary life, living in a shack he made himself, in the village where he grew up. He lives close to a house he calls 'the blue house', where his childhood friends Kresimir and Anka grew up. One day, he sees that some new people have moved in. They are Laura, a woman in her forties, around the same age as Duro, and her children Matthew and Grace. They are English and Laura's husband Connor has bought the house, hoping to renovate it and make a profit from reselling it or from tourism in the area. This does seem a bit bonkers because it's obvious that the area is not a huge tourist draw. 

Duro is alarmed that the house has been sold, but it isn't obvious why. He spends some evenings in the local bar, where he sees Kresimir but avoids him. He also isn't a fan of the bar's owners, Fabjan and another guy. Duro does want to hear the gossip, though. He spends a lot of his free time hunting with his dogs, mother and son (in my head they were Huskies but I actually can't remember haha). Duro goes to meet Laura and offers his services to help renovate the house. He has a lot of skills, and he becomes friendly with Laura and Grace. Matthew is more of an unknown quantity, but I feel like he reminds duro of himself a bit. 

This part of the book is told in the past tense, but then there are bits told in the present tense, which actually took place in the past. This is quite confusing and I wish it had been done differently. Anyway we go back to Duro's childhood with Kresimir and Anka (who are brother and sister). He and Kresimir had a massive rivalry going on and now no longer speak. 

Duro also served in the army in the Croatian war of independence in the early 90s, which is a conflict I don't know too much about actually as I was only young at the time. But it was the break up of Yugoslavia and I did know that it included ethnic cleansing of Serbs living in the area. What happened to Duro and to the families involved are horrendous and were, I thought, told in a brilliant way that really brought it home to me. I didn't quite understand what motivated Duro in some of the stuff with Laura, especially at the end, so I'll be interested to see what my book club thinks about it!

I did think that the book was overly complex and confusing, and for that reason my score is a bit lower than it otherwise would have been. I'm giving this three out of five. 

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