Aminatta Forna’s Essays in The Window Seat Explore Movement, Trauma, & Memory

The Sierra Leonean British author examines race in America through the lens of an African and what it means to walk the world in a Black woman’s body.
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The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion by Aminatta Forna.

The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion by Aminatta Forna.

Aminatta Forna’s debut collection of essays, The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion, includes new and previously published essays exploring displacement, trauma, love, coexistence, and nature. They span continents and cities—Timbuktu, Tehran, London, Freetown, Honolulu, New Orleans—over 272 pages.

As the title implies, and as Chinelo Okparanta notes in a blurb, The Window Seat is “a journey.” In “Crossroads,” Forna examines race in America through the lens of an African. In “The Last Vet,” by shadowing Dr. Jalloh, the only veterinarian in Sierra Leone, as he works with dogs on the streets of Freetown, she meditates on what a country’s treatment of its animals says about its principles. In “Obama and the Renaissance Generation,” she explores the burden of rebuilding placed on the generation of Barack Obama’s father and her father. And in “Power Walking,” she creates an energetic portrait of what it means to walk the world in a Black woman’s body.

The essays in The Window Seat are marked by movement. “Migration is in the heart of humans, we were a migratory species long before we became a settled one, which only happened 10,000 odd years ago with the advent of farming,” Forna said in a conversation with Maaza Mengiste for Literary Hub. “Just the snap of a finger in evolutionary terms. That act of settling, of claiming land, gave rise to new narratives, stories that staked people’s rights to the place they lived. People talk about roots, but plants have roots, not human beings. Humans have feet and feet are meant for walking.”

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Forna was raised between countries: Scotland, Sierra Leone, Thailand, Zambia. Her family travelled for different reasons: education, work, safety, and also for pleasure. As an adult, she travelled even more. “One morning in 1995 I leapt out of bed and said to my new husband, ‘Quick! Let’s go to Cuba before Castro dies,’” Forna told Mengiste.

The essays in The Window Seat, Salman Rushdie writes in another blurb, “ranging across continents and time, so broad in their themes and so deep in their perceptions, are essential reading, combining Aminatta Forna’s great gifts as a storyteller and her razor-sharp analytical skills.”

A former broadcaster and documentarian, Aminatta Forna is the author of four novels: Ancestor Stones (2006), The Memory of Love (2010), The Hired Man (2013), and Happiness (2018). She has also published a memoir, The Devil that Danced on the Water (2002). In 2014, she received a Windham Campbell Prize.

The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion is forthcoming from Grove/Atlantic in May 2021.

Ernest Ogunyemi
Ernest O. Ògunyemi is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Joyland, Tinderbox, Sierra Nevada Review, Journal Nine, The Indianapolis Review, Down River Road, Capsule Stories, No Tokens, The West Review, The Dark Magazine, Mud Season Review, Isele, and in the anthology 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry III. He is the curator of The Fire That Is Dreamed of: The Young African Poets Anthology.
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