The Next Chapter·Like This? Love That

If you liked The Window Seat by Aminatta Forna, you'll love What You Are by M.G. Vassanji

The Next Chapter columnist Donna Bailey Nurse finds a Canadian counterpart to the international bestselling collection of essays.
Donna Bailey Nurse is a Toronto-based writer, critic and columnist. (Grove Press, Mallory Drumm, Doubleday Canada)

This interview originally aired on Jan. 8, 2022.

Aminatta Forna is a novelist and nonfiction writer who was born in Scotland, raised in Sierra Leone and Great Britain, and has lived in many countries throughout her life.

The theme of belonging and movement runs through her 2021 book of essays The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion.

The Next Chapter columnist Donna Bailey Nurse has read The Window Seat by Aminatta Forna and says readers who enjoyed that collection of essays should also check out What You Are by two-time Giller Prize-winning Canadian author M.G. Vassanji. 

The Window Seat by Aminatta Forna

The Window Seat is an essay collection by Scottish writer Aminatta Forna. (Grove Press, Nina Subin)

"The Window Seat reminds me of how observant Aminatta Forna is in all of her writing. It also conveys how much her life has been in motion — and that she loves that. She loves to fly. She loves to go. Wherever she writes about, it's a place that you want to go with her.

She's just a stunning writer — she's got tons of personality that pours out onto the page.

"Another delightful aspect of the essays is that she's not merely an observer. These are personal essays and she's a character in them. Some of the things she thinks about in these essays do come up quite frequently in her work — including the complexity of identity politics and the Western gaze. An interesting aspect of her work is the possibility of a peaceful co-existence with animals. Often these topics overlap. 

"This is a great book because she pushes my mind in ways it doesn't normally go. And she's just a stunning writer — she's got tons of personality that pours out onto the page." 

What You Are by M.G. Vassanji

What You Are is a short story collection by Canadian writer M.G. Vassanji. (Doubleday Canada, Derek Shapton)

"Both Aminatta Forna and M.G. Vassanji share an African consciousness of the vastness of time and space — and they both have this sweeping sense of the human condition. At the same time, they have an intimate understanding of individual human nature. 

"It really is a book about all the things that go into forming your identity — it's not just one thing that does that. What You Are is his third story collection, so he thinks about race, faith, family, culture, politics and the experiences of our own past.

It's really an expansive, life-affirming and joyful story.

"There's a lot of overlap between the two books. It's so cool to me the way that M.G. Vassanji brings together things like African independence and America's Black liberation movement. It's really an expansive, life-affirming and joyful story. 

"As you go through, there are so many places where you can actually flip and really see that they have many thoughts in common. I feel like they share this clear-eyed view of human beings."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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