Sometimes there are books that leave you absolutely emotionally drained. This isn’t a negative thing. If anything, it’s a sign of a great writer, being able to tap in to your innermost mind and make you feel the strongest feelings about these fictional characters.
In this case, the characters are fictional, but the war and the stories from it are real.
Most people will have heard about the war in Yugoslavia in the early 90’s. When you mention it, most people think of Bosnia and Sarajevo, especially. But before all that escalated, Croatia wanted to become an independent sovereign nation, separate from Yugoslavia and the Croatian War of Independence began (this is obviously oversimplified, so if you’re interested to know more, here’s the wikipedia article).
The story opens with Ana Jurić as a carefree 10 year old, running the streets of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia with her friends. Slowly, the signs of a distant conflict start to infiltrate her life. Suddenly the “Serbian” cigarettes she would run to the nearby Tisak (a newsstand chain) to buy for her family friend Petar are no longer available. Then, it’s the frequent wailing of air raid sirens and scrambling to the shelters.
Soon, her life is changed forever and the story abruptly stops and picks up in America, where Ana is a 20 year old college student. Reconnecting with someone from her past, she is forced to dig up the memories she has long tried to hide and forget.
I have spent a lot of time in Croatia and I used to live with a Croatian family for about 3 years. The war was very rarely mentioned in their house, for obvious reasons. But whenever it was, it was sombre and quickly brushed aside.
It is this experience, though, that has brought me closer to this book and far more emotionally invested in it. All the places Ana mentioned in the books were places I knew. The family dynamics, the culture. It almost felt like a homecoming when I first started reading the book. When she bids her father goodnight “Laku noć”, it’s an expression I have used myself so many times. I painted a scene in my mind of all the people I know there, and they became my characters.
I have traveled to the east of the country, not quite Vukovar (the first area to fall to the JNA), but as far as the Plitvice lakes. Driving through villages that still bear the scars of war. Houses still lived in, speckled with bullet holes. Some that are only burnt out blackened shells of a structure. Between these villages, patches of gorgeous, dense green forest with obnoxious bright yellow signs telling you not to leave the road and venture into the forest because there are many un-cleared mines still.
Her story comes to life for me through my own experiences in this amazing country. There were tears, there was gasps of shock. I even threw the book down at one point and told my boyfriend I was “so done with it!”. It is easily the best new book I have read in the last 2+ years. I highly recommend you check it out.
I give it 4.5/5.
Author: Sara Nović
Publisher: Hachette NZ
Release Date: June2015 (Available now)
Thank you to Hachette NZ who kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.