Born in Sarejevo by Snjezana Marinkovic opens with a bleak outlook for Sarajevo and the former Yugoslavia. Then the narrative turns to the author’s personal story, as she becomes trapped between religion and ethnic identity. The Bosnian War, as it is commonly referenced, although others may identify the war by naming the participants as Serbs, Muslims and Croats, is the most recent memory of the author’s country and city. The Croat-Bosniak war is often referred to as the war within a war because it was part of the more encompassing Bosnian War. But the suffering ordinary citizens of Bosnia and Croatia could not tell the difference.
Snjezana paints a vivid picture of a city and country of diverse peoples, customs and mores that once existed in harmony, but the populace lost its cohesion and fragmented into ethnic groups at war with one another. The Serbs, Croats and Muslims depicted in this book are as war made them, not as God did. If they are not all pleasant people, it’s because the story of war is the story of hate and misunderstanding. Hate and misunderstanding destroy people spiritually just as the fighting destroys them bodily. Personal names of the faction leaders become real people rather than names in the news or characters in the story.
Seemingly random thoughts invade the author’s narrative, and her meaning is murky for a paragraph or so before clarifying. Her numerous digressions do not distract, but merely reflect the turmoil of the times and experience. Her story depicts a life of deprivation, struggle and loneliness as friends turn on friends and her own family circle is fractured beyond repair and has nothing to do with the horrors of war. Her story is a bit of a scrapbook in which are pasted clippings and memories relating the transformation of a ruptured country and the mending of a torn life.
As hard as the war and family separation was on her, returning home to Sarajevo after the war was the hardest experience of all when she finds she is foreigner in her own homeland. Eventually her dream of immigrating to the United States becomes reality. The author chastises the United States for its detachment to the Bosnian War and perhaps for having too much when she and her friends had so little; but also shows her appreciation of the United States for the freedom she now has, replacing that which was taken from her during the war years. Still she dreams of returning to the time of Marshall Tito, when Yugoslavians were not classified as Serb, Croat or Muslim, but only as Yugoslavians.
Snjezana Marinkovic is a poet who shares her philosophy of life and religion and reflections on ethnic polarization, and presents a poignant personal account of courage, determination and most of all, survival.
Review by Jim Woods, Author of So You Want to be an Author?