“Serbian or Croatian?” There you have it. The cigarette brand showed everyone which side you were on. “The war in Zagreb started over a pack of cigarettes.” A sentence so simple, honest, brutal, compelling, yet leaving room for a greater, compelling context. There is something remarkably moving about Sara Nović’s Girl at War. The subject is not new, in fact it’s one of the most common subjects in literature: war. The book shifts between the years 1991 and 2001. In 1991 hell broke lose in Croatia, and in 2001 the protagonist is a college student in New York City.
In 1991 Ana was a 10-year old girl roaming around the streets of Zagreb with her friends. Then the war started. Her life, as well as everyone else’s changed in a blink of an eye. Ana’s parents managed to send Ana’s sick younger sister to the U.S. to get illness cured. She was young enough to adopt the American way of life without having haunting memories of her old life distracting her from living her life. Ana was not as lucky.
Ana tried to rid herself of her past by for instance not letting her boyfriend, or others for that matter, know about her past. The urge inside of her makes her go back to Croatia, to her homeland, to see the familiar places, and find what she had lost. Naturally she experienced reverse culture shock, even though she found something extremely important, and a lot more than she was expecting for while being back ‘home’.
There are several forceful events throughout the book, and the emotionally loaded parts are set in Croatia. Reuniting with her childhood friend Luka, and them together talking through the ten year time they were separated, the time of post-war Croatia, is probably my favourite part of the book.
During one of the most powerful events in the book Ana loses her parents, and ends up being a child soldier. No surprise she can’t forget about her past once she gets to the U.S., where both Ana and her little sister get a new life with their adoptive parents.
I definitely liked the book and recommend it to everyone. In many ways it feels less complicated than most books about war, but do not get fooled by this perception. Then again, maybe I’m the only way who got the feeling to begin with. The reasoning behind this is that it was a smooth read, and not an 800 page long, slow moving war novel, written in excruciating detail with too many names and ranks mentioned. Somehow this book gave a fresh look on an old subject. So many people are haunted by their past, brave ones face their past, even though rediscovering the truth as an adult is painful, and shakes them to the core. Read this compelling story!