Saturday, December 09, 2023

Nine books about the aftermath of the Balkan wars

Christine Evans was born in London and grew up in Perth, Western Australia. Prior to moving to the US in 2000, she played saxophone in Perth and Sydney bands and directed music for theatrical events, including her own plays.

She writes fiction, plays, opera libretti, and essays.

Three Marys, for which she wrote the opera libretto (Andrée Greenwell, composer), premiered at the Sydney Opera House in May, 2023, and is available for streaming worldwide from the opera house.

Evans's debut US novel is Nadia.

At Electric Lit she tagged "nine books—funny, tragic, absurd, harsh and beautiful—about the aftermath of the Balkan wars." One title on the list:
Girl at War by Sara Nović

The Deaf Croatian American Sara Nović’s novel toggles in spare and elegant prose between two periods in her fictional protagonist’s life: Ana’s war-shattered young childhood in Croatia, and her present life as a war adoptee and college student in the US. Like The Little Red Chairs and The Book of My Lives, this evokes the impossibility of fitting a war-shattered past and an oblivious present landscape into a single frame. Nović writes poignantly of the incomprehension of Americans, who mean well but can’t begin to grasp what happened in the Balkan wars; Ana decides simply to shut down that part of her life. Her attempt to do so falls apart when the attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11 land on her new home city, New York, shattering her fragile inner equilibrium.

Ana spirals back into a barely-buried past full of horrors that resulted, at ten years of age, in her temporary muteness and her becoming “a child with a gun.” She returns to Croatia to trace the remnants of her family’s life. Accompanied by Luka, her childhood best friend, and the book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (Rebecca West’s 1930s travelogue and cultural-historical commentary on the Balkans), Ana sets out on a tour to revisit scenes of loss and violence. Through descriptions of burned houses and overgrown forest massacre sites, Girl at War evokes the imperfect and unfinished work of bearing witness to obscured atrocities. “I looked out at the gilded mountains and thought of the centuries of war and mistakes that had come together in this place. History did not get buried here. It was still being unearthed.” In the book’s gorgeous final image, the moon fills the gaps in a wounded wall, layering memories of past wholeness over current broken-ness through Ana’s attentive and longing gaze.
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue