Sara' Novics's tale of loss, identity, family set during and in the aftermath of the breakdown of the Yugoslavian state in the 1990s is excellent.
Told through the eyes of Ana we first meet an all-American girl who seems to have it all but her self-containment, studies of authors whose writings deal with loss and identity as well as her unwillingness to commit to her boyfriend hint at deeper concerns.
We then meet Ana more than a decade earlier, living in Croatia with her parents and her sick baby sister and it is this sick child which will lead this compact loving little family to a terrible end. Ana the child, doesn't understand the sudden breakdown of relations between people who were neighbours one day and sworn enemies the next depending on which ethnic group you belonged to.
Novic captures the initial exhilaration felt by the children, Ana and her school friends when war breaks out and they listen for the air raid warnings, which eventually turns to fear and dread. As her sister gets sicker and requires specialist medical help her family take the decision to evacuate her to America but tragedy occurs on the journey home, leaving Ana alone and fending for herself in a war-zone. Taken in a by some villagers she ends up a child-soldier and it is this experience that takes her to the UN a decade later to speak about her experiences. This unleashes the memories she has kept hidden for so long, having been evacuated to America and taken in by the family who fostered her sister her experiences in Croatia had made people uncomfortable and she learnt it was easier to hide what happened, but in doing that she started to lose part of herself. Years later she is trying to work who she is, where she came from and returning to Croatia starts to lay to rest some of these ghosts. An engaging, thought-provoking story with a believable heroine. An excellent read that would do well for book groups and as a way into to explaining some of the history of the Balkans in the 1990s.
This book was provided for free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review