Book Review: Girl At War – Sara Nović

By Saturday, July 11, 2015 4 No tags Permalink 0

Novic, Sara - Girl At WarSometimes 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.


Book Review: Church of Marvels – Leslie Parry

By Wednesday, June 10, 2015 0 No tags Permalink 0

Parry, Leslie - Church of Marvels

Image Credit: Hachette NZ

This is the debut novel from author Leslie Parry. It’s set in New York, 1895 and follows three narrators: Sylvan, Odile and Alphie. At first their stories feel like they couldn’t be further from each other. Sylvan, a night soiler (yeah, he scoops out poo from privies), Alphie, an undertakers wife committed to the insane asylum and Odile, the slightly deformed twin of the mysterious Belle who leaves her home on Coney Island in search of her estranged sister.

I’m going to be honest here and say that at first the story didn’t grip me. I picked it up and put it down a few times and felt really lost. It seemed to jump around a lot and the language seemed so flowery as if the author just wanted to prove how many words she knew. It was enjoyable, but not gripping. The story slowly meanders along for some time, delving further into the back stories of the characters and then all of a sudden it feels like you’re pulled out of your seat and are holding on for dear life.

Leslie Parry has crafted something really special here. Every back story, every meandering passage is all so that when the action of the story happens, you have a better understanding and those “Aha!” moments come with greater meaning. And oh boy, there are so many of them. You need to already be aware of everything because the story picks up so suddenly that there’s no time for description or reflection. Only what is happening right then and there.

There’s a really unexpected twist that I couldn’t see coming until it was right on me, as well. It’s definitely guaranteed this book a place on my shelf as something to re-read because I’m sure that the answer was there all along, carefully hidden.

So all in all? This book is a rewarding read. If you put the time and effort in to get over that first hurdle, you will discover something really enjoyable and memorable.

I give it 4/5.

Author: Leslie Parry
Publisher: Hachette NZ
Release Date: May 2015 (Available now)

Thank you to Hachette NZ who kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.