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Rising African literary star takes new book to Croatia

india Updated: Jan 28, 2013 15:26 IST

Conflict, civil wars and personal choices drive award-winning African writer Aminatta Forna's fictional narratives which probe the social movements and human trauma in troubled zones across the world and on her home turf in Sierra Leone.

Forna hailed as one of most powerful new voices by the New York Times and the British media has shifted the scene of action to Croatia for her new book, "The Hired Man".

"The touchstone for my story is a cynical note on the naivete of the British and how they relate to other people," Forna told IANS in an interview on the sidelines of the Jaipur Literary Festival.

Two of her previous novels were set in Africa and a memoir she wrote on her father - Mohammed Forna, a physician-turned politician who was killed by the Sierra Leone secret police in 1974 - studies the political turbulence in the state through personal tragedy.

However, her father's execution still remains her creative watershed extending into her calling as a writer. "Since writing the memoir, 'The Devil That Danced on The Water', I have just honed my story-telling power. The themes continue - civil war and personal choices," Forna said.

"The Hired Man" happens in a very small community in Croatia where something (disastrous) had taken place 18 years ago and people are still living with the consequences, the writer said.

"The idea is based on betrayal, love, tradition and war in Croatia that are strikingly similar experiences to those in Africa," Forna told IANS, explaining the factors that influence her new novel.

"It is an untold story with a small cast of charactersIt had been Croatia for a long time and has its own critics. I have been reading about British people buying holiday property in Croatia," Forna said.

How it is that in a country which has suffered ethnic cleansing, the British could buy property, she said.

Forna says the events in the strife-torn eastern Europe are like "shared experiences" with those in Sierra Leone, another conflict zones which is now seeing a flush of unplanned progress and influx of easy mining wealth.

The 49-year-old writer offered readers a sneak preview into "The Hired Man" at the Jaipur Literature Festival Jan 24-28 where she read excerpts from the book.

Forna had won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for her novel, "Ancestor Stone", a tale of four powerful women from one family in a changing Africa.

"I am a cross-cultural person. I have the ability to interpret because I have grown up interpreting. All the time, this cross-cultural legacy taught me to understand," Forna said.

Born in Glasgow to a Scottish mother and a Muslim father, Forna spent much of her childhood in Sierra Leone and Britain.

She has lived through multiple cultures with common heritage like a "devout Muslim paternal grandfather and a Presbyterian maternal grandfather- both tall and thin - and had they met they would have found themselves in accord", Forna said.

The writer runs a humanitarian project, the Rogbonko Project in Sierra Leone that enages with education and maternal and child health.

"This year, our focus is maternal health. It is on going problem, but the government has spent lot of money. I am also involved in education," she said.

Nearly 200 children come to her school. It is no easy fix, Forna says because keeping the teachers trained and on tether was difficult.

Sierra Leone, once a conflict zone is changing. "The International Monetary Fund IMF) projects 36 per cent growth. You see it in Sierra Leone. Roads have been paved and lot of wealth. Some riots have also broken out. People are talking about the resource curse. The more politicized and educated middle class will have to safeguard democracy," Forna said.

The writer said the natives of Sierra Leone had expected the Creoles - the former administrator of the British - to take part in the transition and move faster. "They did not do it though they could have done it. And there is a lot of resentment over that," Forna said.