Aminatta Forna: ‘My own books make me cry as I write – it’s pathetic’

The author on struggling with Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels and the book that inspired her to become a writer

The book I am currently reading
David Maraniss’s meticulous and absorbing biography of Barack Obama. I’ve also just begun Sofi Oksanen’s Purge, and have been rationing myself to one exquisite poem a day from John Freeman’s collection Maps.

The book that changed my life 
Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. The ructions of many African countries mirrored those of the South American countries, which were then rich in literature. Allende’s work resonated with me in a way no English novel could at that time. It marked a tipping point, towards becoming a writer.

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Aminatta Forna: ‘We must take back our stories and reverse the gaze’

Writers of African heritage must resist the attempts of others to define us and our history A few years ago I was sent a book by a psychologist called Boris Cyrulnik. Cyrulnik was born in France in 1937, during the war his parents were sent to concentration camps and never returned. At the age of seven he joined the French resistance as a runner, carrying messages back and forth across enemy lines. The book was called Resilience and I’d been sent it because of my own work describing traumatic events and their impact – in a memoir The Devil That Danced on the Water uncovering the circumstances surrounding my father’s political murder in Sierra Leone in 1975, and again in The Memory of Love, a novel set during the subsequent civil war. I read Resilience in a single sitting, and it struck me that every word of it was true. ...