As I’ve said time and time again, Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge has inspired me to read books representing the length and breadth of Europe. Sometimes, when it comes to the smaller countries this can be challenging. But no matter how small they be, somehow I find a way. One of these relatively petit states is the former Yugoslavian republic of Croatia. In 2017 I featured Sara Nović’s 2015 novel Girl at War and a few years before that in 2014 it was Slavenka Drakulic’s 1994 offering Marble Skin. This time around it’s Aminatta Forna’s 2013 The Hired Man. It’s yet another book I found at the public library (perhaps initially taken in by its oddly intriguing cover art) and after seeing I could apply it towards the European Reading Challenge quickly opted to borrow it.
Day to-day life for Duro, a forty-something bachelor living in the small Croatian village of Gost, is pretty mundane. Having never attended a university or trade school, or underwent an apprenticeship nevertheless is one of those guys who, thanks to his decent work ethic and intelligence always manages to secure meaningful employment as a handyman or construction kind of guy. One day, his quiet existence is interrupted by the arrival of Laura, a British woman and her two teenage kids. Like an episode of House Hunters International, Laura and her husband have purchased a local farmhouse and soon find themselves in need of a talented and reliable fix-it man. Duro, cautious at first offers to help Laura repair the farmhouse. While getting the long-abandoned property back in shape he gets to know Laura as well as her two children. As novel unfolds we learn that Gost wasn’t always a sleepy and uneventful place. Bit by bit ghosts from its dark past begin to haunt Duro and his newly arrived neighbors.
The Scottish and Sierra Leonean writer Forna is not Croatian but alas this doesn’t stop her from writing a decent novel set in that particular part of the world. Kudos to Forna for doing her research. (At the end of the novel she credits, among many both Misha Glenny and the above-mentioned Slavenka Drakulic.) After reading The Hired Man I’d like to read her other novels. Therefore don’t be surprised if you see more of her stuff featured on my blog.