Aminatta Forna is one of our most important literary voices, and her novels have won the Windham Campbell Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book. In this elegantly rendered and wide-ranging collection of new and previously published essays, Forna writes intimately about displacement, trauma and memory, love, and how we coexist and encroach on the non-human world.
Movement is a constant here. In the title piece, “The Window Seat,” she reveals the unexpected enchantments of commercial air travel. In “Obama and the Renaissance Generation,” she documents how, despite the narrative of Obama’s exceptionalism, his father, like her own, was one of a generation of gifted young Africans who came to the United Kingdom and the United States for education and were expected to build their home countries anew after colonialism. In “The Last Vet,” time spent shadowing Dr. Jalloh, the only veterinarian in Sierra Leone, as he works with the street dogs of Freetown, becomes a meditation on what a society’s treatment of animals tells us about its principles. In “Crossroads,” she examines race in America from an African perspective, and in “Power Walking” she describes what it means to walk in the world in a Black woman’s body and in “The Watch” she explores the raptures of sleep and sleeplessness the world over.
Deeply meditative and written with a wry humor, The Window Seat confirms that Forna is a vital voice in international letters.
Praise for The Window Seat
“[Forna’s] at her best when coaxing hard-won wisdom out of everyday details . . . Forna glides smoothly among memoir, travel writing, history, and literary studies. The prose is intimate and conversational… but the feeling of chatting over coffee belies the attention she gives to each sentence . . . A grand sweep of peoples and cultures united by a longing for what home really means.”―Kirkus Reviews
“Novelist Forna (Happiness) explores notions of place, identity, and movement in this bracing collection . . . Forna is a razor sharp prose stylist . . . and her attention to detail moves the collection forward . . . Full of careful observations, Forna’s meditations hit the mark.”―Publishers Weekly
“The Window Seat is gutsy, funny, risky and wise, full of dazzling late night insight, in-the-middle-of-everything epiphanies, moments of sheer honesty blooming into gut truths, in a clear-eyed voice that makes you listen in wonder.”―Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Booker Prize
“These essays, 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.”―Salman Rushdie
“If you had to take the middle seat and sit next to anyone with the window seat, Aminatta Forna would be the perfect stranger to talk to. Wise, witty, sensitive, and sophisticated―about travel, politics, globalization, writing, and the nuances of the human heart and soul―Forna has lived a life of which many of us would be envious. Her essays illuminate that life but ours as well, making us understand the many ways we are connected, even if we only see each other from a distance.”―Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Committed
“The essays in this magnificent collection are exhilarating and expansive meditations on traveling―and living―in places so consequential and historically significant that they cannot be measured simply by distance. Who are we far from home? What becomes of those who return, and what do we owe to those who stay behind? These are just a few of the questions that Forna raises in this sharply rendered, personal collection. But she doesn’t stop there: by the end, this book invites a reckoning with our rightful place on this earth. Generous in spirit and breathtakingly intelligent, The Window Seat reminds us why Forna is one of our best writers working today.”―Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King
“These brilliant essays, reflections from a boundary-crossing life, are urgently needed in America right now. Forna writes to us from a world where democracies are in the process of being made and unmade, where “nation-building is no simple task,” where lives are lost to civil war. With expert storytelling, she provides a vivid context for our politics and culture. The Window Seat is a wise guidebook for how to be at home in the world.”―Eula Biss, author of Having and Being Had
“From the Shetlands to Sierra Leone, from Teheran to Georgetown, Aminatta Forna has been everywhere, paid attention to everything and everyone. She is brilliant at thinking in narration and can thus tell superb stories about her life and experience. She contains multitudes, and her essays are populated with those multitudes, dense with unforgettable details and landscapes, amazing people and animals, astonishing histories. The Window Seat is dazzling.”―Aleksandar Hemon, author of The Lazarus Project
“The Window Seat is a journey. Imagine yourself on a scenic, thought-provoking flight around the world―from the UK to New Zealand, Sierra Leone to the USA―in this candid exploration of nostalgia for a lost past and the trappings of home. These essays are altogether a sharp, elegant meditation on childhood, adulthood, race, migration, and itinerancy. Astutely balancing illuminating research with intimate personal anecdotes, Forna expertly suffuses the book with her insights on everything from politics and insomnia to food insecurity and biodiversity.”―Chinelo Okparanta, author of Under the Udala Trees
“Forna’s essays are simultaneously introspective and political, big-hearted and hard-edged, adventurous and wise. She can write about race and war and family and loss and everything in between, and she has the words to match her extraordinary experience. This book enlarged my world.”―Juan Gabriel Vásquez, author of Songs for the Flames