Title: Girl At War
Writer: Sara Nović
Publishing House: Random House
Date of Publication: May 12th 2015
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Of course we want to go back. Of course we’re going home.’’
Home…Where is this ‘’home’’ when the land where you’ve spent all your life is about to witness violence, desolation, and death? Where is this ‘’home’’ when the people you’ve known as neighbours and friends are now considered enemies? Where is this ‘’home’’ when your loved ones are lost? When the guilt of surviving the nightmare still haunts your dreams? Home can only be found once you’ve made your peace with a terrifying past and Ana begins her journey through an ordeal that no living human being should ever experience again…The ordeal of war and exile.
“As a side effect of modern warfare, we had the peculiar privilege of watching the destruction of our country on television.”
Ana, a young girl from Zagreb, finds her life torn as the war in the Balkan region starts in 1990. Croatia is heavily wounded and Ana experiences the cruelest face of fate. Ten years later, following the tragic results of a ferocious war, Ana returns to beautiful Croatia to lay the ghosts to rest, to find beloved faces from the past, to discover some form of peace, however fragile. Through her story, her personal journey, we come to know a deeply sympathetic and brave character in a realistic, understated, poignant and powerful book by a brilliant young writer,
The setting of the novel and the implications of dealing with a war that is very much alive in the minds of most of us could have resulted in a work that would have been melodramatic in the hands of an incompetent writer or one who has to serve a personal agenda. Nović is neither. She has the confidence to project an extremely sensitive subject, a moment in recent History that was witnessed by most of us and creates a novel that is balanced, honest and extremely memorable. She weaves her story through the eyes of a young girl (going back and forth in time) and later, as a young woman that fights to understand a world that has changed forever. Nović doesn’t have to resort to gore and violence in order to attract attention. Her writing, quiet and poetic, creates moments of dread that grip your soul page after page. The hearsay stories of terror against children during the first days of the war. The necessity to turn the lights off because not doing so may prove deadly. The story of the Wall of Pain, the Zid boli in Zagreb. The child armies. The self-exile.
“…I knew in the end the guilt of one side did not prove the innocence of the other.”
People who were neighbours, friends are separated. Many have to abandon their homes, their relations because they’re suddenly considered enemies overnight. Others become refugees. And many fall, victims of men who do not fight for a country but to satisfy their endless lust for blood and rape. When you cannot distinguish truth from lies, a different kind of terror begins. When you cannot know whether the horror stories are reality or counter-propaganda. When people who have not experienced the nightmare of war use the word ‘’starving’’. This always gets me. I mean, we cannot even begin to fathom the vicious force of this expression and yet we use it thoughtlessly because this is how ignorant we all are…And after a while, the sequence of crimes and blind violence begins. The line between defense and revenge blurs and the innocents, the women and the children, are the first to pay the most horrible price. And it doesn’t matter who fights against whom. In the end, everyone is guilty of something. This is the outcome of every war…
Through Ana, a unique, bookish girl, we see beautiful Croatia. From Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes, to Split, one of the most beautiful cities. Through her memories of a happier time, we see her strong, beautiful relationship with her father. Her love for football which is a religion in itself in every Balkan country. We Balkans adore football and basketball, being pretty good at both. In fact, Croatia’s national football team is one of the best in the world.
Nović creates a journey that is heartbreaking and hopeful, sad, powerful, haunting. The ending is full of confidence, possibilities, and hope. She doesn’t struggle to force our feelings as we so often see in Contemporary Literature. She writes and we experience.
Since my university years, I’ve had many friends from the countries involved in that terrible war that devastated our beautiful corner of Europe. Some live in Greece, in Slovenia, in Croatia, in Serbia, in Germany, in Bosnia. We are all in our thirties now. We are all friends, we get together, we laugh and sing and argue. We share the same fears and hopes. Thank God for today’s peace. Thank God for us, the younger generation that lives with the values of friendship, cooperation, and understanding lighting the way. It is not easy to escape the past but I firmly believe we have succeeded in creating a new future for a region that has suffered so much for so many years.
‘’Around the room the moon filled the shell marks in the walls with a pallid blue light, and they looked full again, like a home.’’