Thursday, 21 May 2015

Girl at War by Sara Novic

Girl at War
Sara Novic

Summary: Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Juric is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost. 
It always feel weird to call a book with such tragic subject matter a favourite, but I don't know a better way to explain just how highly I think of this book and how much it got under my skin. It is now, without a doubt, one of my all time favourite books. I stayed up all night just to read it and it was so beautiful and sad and heartbreakingly honest.

The Yugoslav Wars are something I've always found interesting but I was pretty ignorant about the majority of it and I still am (like most people, my knowledge was pretty limited to stuff relating to the Bosnian war -- I didn't know specifics about what happened in Croatia), but his book opened my eyes to sides of the conflict I hadn't read about before and left me wanting to find out more. A book that can make someone aware of their own ignorance and make them want to educate themselves more on a certain subject is definitely a good one.

As for the story itself... I loved it, in the sense that it had me in tears multiple times and my heart ached for the characters and the knowledge that stories like this aren't just stories -- that there are real people who lived through this stuff.

I really, really loved that the story starts with her as a child. There's something jarring about seeing war through a child's eyes -- the way terrifying things become normalized for them, the way they adapt to having these extreme situations be a part of their day to day lives and how bit-by-bit war chips away at their innocence in ways they don't even realise until years later. I loved that we saw her grown up, too, showing the impact it had on her and it was interesting to see her think back on the things she experienced as a child, and how she understands things that happened in a way she couldn't while they'd been happening.

The only thing I didn't like about the book was the ending. It's one of those endings that leaves so much unresolved and so many questions unanswered. I guess that actually fits really well with the story though, because war is like that too. It just didn't feel like an ending but the fact that it left me wanting more of the story, frustrating as it may be, is a compliment to the book too because I didn't want it to be over.

Anyway, I'd rate the book 5 stars out of 5 and I can't wait until I can buy a physical copy so it can take it's well earned place on my favourites shelf.


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