The Key to My Neighbor’s House by Elizabeth Neuffer

Subtitled “Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda,” Neuffer’s book is compilation of wartime reporting and personal recollections.  It’s also an impressive example of the incompetence, cowardice, and trepidation of the United Nations, NATO, and the Western world. For example, Neuffer states that the Dutch UN battalion’s failure to prevent the massacre of Srebrenica, a so-called “safe area” under UN protection, has become the Netherlands’ longest-running public scandal. In reality, it should be a worldwide scandal.

“How much should a society remember and how much should it forget? Where does the boundary fall between enough justice to destroy impunity and so much “justice” that it becomes revenge? How can any punishment, in the wake of mass atrocities such as those Bosnia and Rwanda have seen, ever address the needs of the thousands of people raped, maimed, tortured, or homeless?” (pg. xv)

The biggest question the book tries to answer, though, is what does justice mean to those have experienced genocide. Some, particularly the United States and the United Nations, clamor for judicial hearings and tribunals while others on the ground clamor for revenge and retribution. Others like Hasan, a Bosnian Muslim, wants an apology and help finding his family’s remains.

I told the friend I borrowed the book from that I think it would have benefited from being two different books — one on Rwanda and one on Bosnia — or split into multiple parts. Neuffer splits the book into three parts: “Bearing Witness”, “Trials and Tribunals”, and “After Judgment”. Each based around her greater question; each attempting to blend together the two genocides. The genocides occurred roughly around the same time, Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 and Rwanda in 1994, but they are so vastly different in their mechanisms and post-war conclusions that it’s difficult to keep the two straight.

The more I read, the more apparent it was that the book would have benefited from a map or two. I was already struggling to follow to genocides I knew very little about, but my reading was furthered slowed by the difficulty to putting the information in geographic context. The Serbs wanted particular towns to build their greater Serbia but how I am supposed to imagine this picture of greater Serbia without the context of a map.

The book isn’t the perfect introduction to either genocide and there are things I would have changed about ti to make it more reader-friendly. But, considering I know nothing about Bosnia, it did impart a lot of information.

Book Mentioned:

  • Neuffer, Elizabeth. The Key to My Neighbor’s House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda. New York: Picador, 2002. Originally published 2001. Print. 502 pgs. ISBN: 0312302827. Source: Borrowed from a friend.
Book Cover © Picador. Retrieved: September 29, 2011.


  1. I haven’t heard of this book, but it sounds like a very interesting read. It is sad to read about relatives simply wanting to find the remains of their loved ones. I hope that one day they get their wish granted.


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