I wasn’t intending to pick up Girl at War by Sara Novic but I needed a new audio book and this one was “available now” in my libraries e-collection. It’s been awhile since I’ve “read” historical fiction; I’ve been so wrapped up in fantasy or magical realism lately that I’d forgotten how poignant historical fiction can be.
Girl at War begins in Zagreb during the height of summer, 1991. Ana, a ten year old Croatian tomboy roams the city streets with her best friend Luka and at night returns to her families small flat. Ana is happy but she can feel that unrest is in the air.
Air raid drills, rationing, the abandonment of homes and missing people color Ana’s childhood. Through the eyes of a child, we see the beginnings of a brutal civil war that takes away her friends, her home, her family and even her country.
Ten years later Ana is living in New York and attending university, but nightmares plague her and a past she thought she was over resurfaces with force. Needing to face the life she left behind when she was smuggled to America as a child, Ana returns to Zagreb.
The story alternates between 10 year old Ana and 20 year old Ana. Can she come to terms with her past or will it haunt her forever?
I usually have initial reactions that I know I am going to write about when I review a book, but this one took some digesting–as most historical fiction about genocide does. It’s hard to rate a book like this that sheds light on a dark part of history in a way that makes people feel. You feel like you have to give it a good review or else you don’t sympathize with the conflict.
For me, this book was a 3.5. It made me feel and I learned more about a conflict I was only vaguely aware about previously. Ana said it best in the book when she said that American’s understood the conflict in Yugoslavia without the emotional investment of those closer to it (sorry paraphrasing can’t find the actual quote for the life of me). That was one success of this book, it made you want to be more aware of the conflicts outside our boarders.
I liked the characters in the story. Luka was one of my favorites; his questioning curiosity paired with his almost aloof understanding of Ana was believable to me. Don’t get me wrong, he cared but in a way that showed the wariness of ten years time. I also thought Ana’s adult journey into her past was well done and too believable. But dude, that ending! Talk about abrupt.
This was a book that forced you to take a deep breath at the end and think. In that way it was a success.
That’s all for now!