Aminatta Forna is the rare writer who qualifies her love of flying with the caveat “I’m talking about being a passenger on a commercial flight.” Years ago, she had once steered a small aircraft with a friend, trying to pull off a stunt over eastern England. The first two times she struggled to rotate the plane, but during the third attempt she “flew out of the loop, my wings level, feeling like the gymnast who has … scored a perfect ten.”
Flying has other implications for Forna, because of her family history. Her father was a political dissident in Sierra Leone, jailed and executed when Forna was barely 10 years old. Her Scottish mother was forced into exile with the children, and they lived for years in Nigeria, Zambia, and Iran. Often on an international flight, the adult Forna will realize that she might be cruising over a war zone, that a person down there glancing up at her plane might be feeling a lack utterly alien to her fellow passengers. Her memories of trips are rife with similar episodes of disenchantment. Air travel is fraught with the turbulence of escape.