Crossing borders isn’t a big deal for her. Being born near Glasgow, Scotland and raised in Sierra Leone and the UK, this author lived in Iran, Thailand and Zambia. Not only does she go from place to place herself, her stories travel too. Most of her books have been translated into 18 languages and her essays and stories have appeared in many magazines and papers all over the world. Besides her writings and work as a Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, she also finds time for her charity project in Sierra Leone. Welcome to the life of Aminatta Forna.
After her memoir of her father’s life and assassination, The Devil that Danced on the Water (2002), and acclaimed novels like Ancestor Stones (2006), The Memory of Love (2011) and The Hired Man (2013), her latest title Happiness was selected as a ‘best book of 2018’ by various newspapers and magazines like the Washington Post and Vanity Fair. Instead of writing about Africa from a Western perspective, Forna decided to do exactly the contrary. She reversed the gaze by creating the Ghanaian psychiatrist named Attila and let him examine the entire British culture, value system and its inhabitants. “It was about asking westerners, in particular, to think about the way they live and treat each other. I just wanted to take Attila for a walk in London.”
Why the story’s set in London? “It’s the proximity of everything that is so interesting in London,” she says. “The most powerful live next to those with no rights. Immigrants work in the places where people who rule the whole country live their lives. Richest and poorest, animals and humans, side by side.” Forna told in an interview in May 2018. It’s a novel full of juxtapositions, a story of loss and resilience, of grief and happiness and most of all: connecting to one another and having a shared understanding.
In accordance with the social themes of her books, Forna started the Rogbonko Project in December 2002. Rogbonko is a village of 500 people in central Sierra Leona and founded in the 1920s by Forna’s grandfather. Sierra Leone was and still is one of the most physically beautiful countries Forna knows, but during her childhood, the country was ruled by corrupt regimes that left the government’s coffers empty. During the Sierra Leone Civil War that started in 1999, the rebels controlled Rogbonko and left the once flourishing village in 2002 in a desperate state.
To stop history from repeating itself, Forna and the village’s inhabitants built the Rogbonko Village School in 2003. Nowadays the school has five classrooms, a library, solar power and gives access to around 200 children. Besides this, it also runs an adult literacy programme including skills training. The Rogbonko Project is entirely run by the village and encompasses infrastructure, health, and education to create a safe environment and gives the people the opportunity to get educated, to follow their hopes and dreams for the future of their country.