THE HIRED MAN by Aminatta Forna

It's 2007, in the small town of Gost, Croatia. Duro is in his 40s, a single man, born and bred in Gost, and likely to also die there at some long future date. He lives in an old cottage with his two dogs. Life is simple, uncomplicated, little happens in the community to disturb the day to day. Being Croatia in 2007 though, you know that in this story untold and buried events will be exposed.

It is the arrival of an Englishwoman, Laura, and her two teenage children, that opens the box of closely held secrets. Laura and her absent husband have bought the blue house, situated on the outskirts of town, empty for many years, neglected and run down. It is a house that Duro spent much of his childhood in, where his best friends Kresimir and Anka lived. The three were insepararable as children, Anka becoming Duro's first love.

All of this gradually unfolds as Duro's memories are awakened with the arrival of Laura and the children. He becomes the hired man of the title, helping the arrivals with making the house habitable, odd jobs, gardening and the like. One day the daughter, Grace, uncovers a beautiful mosaic on the wall of the house. Where did it come from, who did it? Duro finds an old car in the garage, the car that Anka drove in days past. These small events upset the delicate status quo in the community that has evolved over the 10 years or so since the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Tensions lying just below the surface are set to explode.

Throughout the novel there is an air of something not right, unspoken history - the writing is so good, so perfect. The naivety and happy disposition of Laura, for whom the house is simply a summer holiday place, is brilliantly contrasted with the darkness that pervades Duro and the other long time residents of the area. This is not a grand sweeping epic whereby we are thrust into the world of war crimes, of people doing amazing heroic deeds, but rather a small story of a small town, an anywhere town, made up of very ordinary everyday people, being human, still coming to terms with a dark time in their history.

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