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Aminatta Forna's memoir is a beautifully wrought, deeply personal portrait of the tragic events that derailed Sierra Leone's nascent democracy movement in the 1970s. Ms. Forna's British-educated father, a physician and onetime government minister in Sierra Leone, struggled with his colleagues to bring freedom to the long-suffering, oft-exploited people of this desperately poor nation, only to face ultimate betrayal. In emerging African governments, as elsewhere, power is known to corrupt. Sierra Leone was no exception, but Dr. Forna was. For this reason, the praetorian government of Siaka Stevens tried him and 13 others on charges that would have been utterly laughable had the results been less appalling: They were all summarily executed.
As a child, Aminatta asked her father to sign her autograph book. He chose a quote from Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Man": "Honour and shame from no condition rise; Act well your part: there all the honour lies." Unknowingly, Dr. Forna passed on to his young daughter the words by which he chose to live and die.
By turns gorgeous and painful, blissful and disquieting, The Devil That Danced on the Water evokes the blessed ignorance of childhood even as it narrates the hideous fallout of wholesale slaughter. Forna tells her story with poignancy and no hint of self-pity. Clear-eyed and objective, she expresses a sense of personal liberation that readers will also feel when one -- and only one -- of those who gave false testimony against her father in exchange for money or a job finally apologizes. Dr. Forma's daughter has written a radiant and extremely accomplished tribute. (Winter 2002 Selection)