Nonfiction — print. Spiegel & Grau, 2012. 232 pgs. Review copy.
Subtitled “Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood”, Demick tells the story of the Bosnian War and the brutal and devastating three and a half year siege of Sarajevo through the lives of ordinary citizens, who struggle with hunger, poverty, sniper fire, and shelling, living on Logavina Street. This six block long street serves as a microcosm of Sarajevo, a city that for four centuries was known for its ethnic and religious tolerance. On this street of 240 families, Muslims and Christians, Serbs and Coats, lived easily together, unified by their common identity as Sarajevans.
Regular readers of this blog know that I have a particular interest in books about genocide. I’ve read many a book about the Holocaust — the most popular genocide, if I can use those words — and have more recently started expanding into other time periods. The Bosnian genocide is one I’m least familiar with despite it being the most recent so I jumped at the chance to read and review this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program.
One of the problems with using the Holocaust as the definition of genocide is that it was an atypical experience. Not everyone who commits or carries out genocide produces paperwork or constructs expansive death apparatuses. The Bosnian genocide is even more confusing– at least for me — because each side accuses the other of carrying out ethnic cleansing and the extent of the genocide is disputed. The Bosnian community assert that the Srebrenica massacre was just one instance of what was a broader genocide committed by Serbia, but the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice have ruled that only the Srebrenica massacre constitutes genocide.
Demick’s book was exactly what I needed because while the book does not definitively address this confusion, it does provide an accessible and illuminating crash course in the experience of Sarajevans during the Bosnian War. I learned a surprising amount of information whilst reading its 232 pages and moved through a million and one emotions.
I felt intensely for each person who was interviewed in Demick’s boo and was glad to see that the book has been expanded since it’s original publication in 1996 to include more information about the consequences and outcomes of the war for the people living on Logavina Street. The final chapter on Sarajevo and the successor countries to the former Yugoslavia today (2011) was also incredibly interesting. Just because the fighting is over doesn’t mean tensions aren’t still bubbling under the surface.