Anne Lamott once stated that “If your narrator [fascinates] … , it isn’t … going to matter if nothing much happens for a long time.” She might have been writing about Aminatta Forta‘s The Hired Man.
The book opens thusly: At the time of writing I am forty-six years old. My name is Duro Kolak.
Kolak lives in a Croation village named Gost. An English lady and her two teen-agers–a boy and a girl–arrive to take up residence in an old house he has been tending to. She hires him to do repairs. He describes what he does in meticulous detail. The materials he uses. Where he gets them. He also describes his daily bachelor routines, his life in a nearby stone cottage where he lives with his two dogs. He hunts deer. Takes some coffee or beer at a local tavern. We learn a bit–but only a bit–about his past. How he grew up in the village, then spent some time on the coast, only to return to the small backwater.
All the while, the repairs progress, as does his friendship with the little family. Still, though, you’d have to describe it as cordial rather than intimate.
Then things do begin to happen. Little things. A mosaic is discovered under some plaster, a mosaic that disturbs someone in town. Duro takes the family to the coast to buy some needed tiles. Memories emerge. He did a lot more than “spend some time” on the coast, and what he did and with whom begins to seep into the narrative.
I’m resisting urge to reveal more here because the process by which Forta pulls aside the layers of gauze that reveal the many stories behind the Duro’s story is such an intense experience that it would be like filling you with a meal without giving you a chance to taste it. And this is a meal you need to savor. Bite by amazing bite.