Like The Unquiet Dead, it’s hard to adequately review a book about a really serious historical subject like the massacres in Croatia. But I’ll do my best. What I appreciated most about this book was its readability, and how real it felt. I imagine that author Sara Novic experienced many of the things she wrote about. The Yugoslavian Civil War, which occurred in the early 90s, happened during my college years, yet I knew little or nothing about it, despite the horrors that occurred. I feel a responsibility to know more. I think in the U.S. we tend to care only about the conflicts that affect us, and we turn a blind eye to the rest of them.
Girl at War is told by Ana Juric, who is ten and living in Zagreb when the conflict begins. The book switches from her years in Croatia to her years as a college student in Manhattan, trying to deal with the trauma of her past.
In terms of violence, Novic doesn’t show us nearly as much as she could. Rather than give you the larger picture in a lot of historical detail, Novic chooses to focus the story on one girl’s experience. And Ana’s experience is horrifying enough. She is a really relatable and likable character, despite what she has suffered. I was impressed that she is able to go before the United Nations and testify about her experiences. She has tried to put the past behind her but finds she is unable to.
What I liked about this book is there is the story about what happened in Croatia, and there is also the story about what it means to change countries and families midway through your childhood. This isn’t just about personal trauma, but defining who you are, when everything in your life changes and you are surrounded by people who know nothing about you.
This is a short but a powerful book. It’s not difficult to read but I felt I learned a lot, and I found Ana’s character, and her journey, very inspiring. This is the kind of book you remember when you feel like you’re having a rough day because you missed your bus or left your phone at home. I appreciate books that put the world in perspective, and this one did.