Girl at War, by Sara Nović
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (May 12, 2015)
Reading Sara Review: This is the best book that I have read in past couple of months, and I cannot stop recommending it to people. Sometimes it feels like the stars align for certain topics to be repeated in our lives, and in this case, in things that I am reading or hearing about, and this is an example of that. Stay with me, though this may seem a little complicated. A few months ago, I saw the movie Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo. The film documents a love story between Admira, a Bosniak, and Boško, a Bosnian Serb. It is a heartbreaking story, and not just because of the star-crossed lovers, but was a stark reminder of the atrocities that occurred during the Bosnian War in the early 90s.
After watching that film, the conflict stayed with me – I was young in the early 90s, and remember seeing and hearing about the struggles in Yugoslavia on the news, but it is something that I had not thought about in years. The humanitarian crises occurring in our world, specifically in Syria, has brought back a lot of these emotions and feelings and has been a constant reminder this year of what others in the world are going through every day. While I am safe in my warm home, writing on my laptop, others are not sure where they are going to sleep tonight or whether they will ever see a loved one again.
So, with all of this floating through my head, I stumbled upon Girl at War by Sara Nović. It felt like this book came to me at just the right time to appreciate it and love it as much as I did. Girl at War is about Ana, who is a regular 10-year old biking around, playing games and enjoying her childhood – until civil war breaks out in Yugoslavia and her world completely shatters. Nović expertly goes back and forth in time telling Ana’s story in a sensitive, compelling and moving way. I could not put this book down and read it in one weekend.
Because much of the story is from a child’s perspective, it gave me new empathy for the innocence that was being disturbed by the conflict that circled Ana and her family and her friends. When Ana picks up a gun for the first time, I was horrified, but understood too, because she instinctively knew that those on the other side of the conflict would kill her, regardless of her age. Ana’s past shapes her so much that the reader cannot help but invest in her outcome, her trials, tribulations, growth, and discovery. Ana’s story is in stark contrast to her sister, who left Yugoslavia as a baby and remembers nothing of the war. She grows up as an American teenager without all of the guilt, memories, and horrors that Ana carries with her for through her teenage and young adult life. Is her sister lucky for this? Or was she robbed of the childhood memories that include people and places she should have known, but never got the chance to know?
Girl at War is a beautiful book, regardless of your memories of the Bosnian war in the 90s. It will challenge your views of right and wrong, make you thankful for a warm, safe place to rest your head each night. Most importantly, though, it is an incredibly well-researched story of a girl, finding her way home and you will be rooting for her and with her the entire way.