Author(s): Sara Novic
Growing up in Zagreb in the summer of 1991, 10-year-old Ana Juric is a carefree tomboy; she runs the streets with her best friend, Luka, helps take care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But when civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, football games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. The brutal ethnic cleansing of Croats and Bosnians tragically changes Ana's life, and she is lost to a world of genocide and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival. Ten years later she returns to Croatia, a young woman struggling to belong to either country, forced to confront the trauma of her past and rediscover the place that was once her home. Girl At War is a haunting, compelling debut from a brilliant young writer, rooted in historical fact and personal experience. Sara has lived in the States and Croatia, and her novel bears witness to the haunting stories of her family and friends who lived through the height of the conflict, and reflects her own attempts to come to terms with her relationship to Croatia and its history. It is an extraordinary achievement for a novelist of any age, let alone age 26.
This is a powerful book about being caught in the crossfire of civil unrest. Yugoslavia was torn asunder by conflict in the 1990s. A quick wiki search reports 140 000 deaths and 4 million people displaced by a brutal series of conflicts, with numerous war crimes including ethnic genocide, systematic rape and crimes against humanity. The repercussions of these actions are the focus of Novic’s novel. Taking a huge, extremely complex subject like this is a risk but Novic’s focus on the story of one girl gives a control and strength to the writing. Ana’s story could be many stories. When the book opens, she is a 10-year-old who is happy to hang out with her best friend Luka, riding bikes and fooling around. Even when the war starts there is little impact on her life. With increasing shortages and tensions mounting, Ana’s sickly sibling needs to be treated outside of the conflict zone. With few choices available the family make a risky and emotionally devastating trip to a nearby city where the only resolution is for her baby sister to be ‘adopted’ and sent via the UN to an American family. The return journey, though, is the more dangerous. Stopped by rebels, the family is forced to walk into the forest. What follows is life changing for Ana. Novic does not shy away from the cruel nature of war, she depicts trauma pitch-perfect (it is obvious that she has done her research well) and gets inside of the heads of the damaged, the revengeful and the lost. Ana is rescued from her life as a child soldier and sent to America to join her sister; the novel is also a story about facing the past. As young woman, Ana is feels uneasy within her adoptive family, she can’t commit in her relationships and she is floundering to connect to the future. Her life is dominated by her past, and a return visit to her home country forces her to face her ghosts, to grieve for all that is lost and to move forward. While this is a brutal read in parts, it is also a testament to parental love, to bravery, to resistance and resilience. - Stella
Baileys Longlist 2016
This vivid debut recalls Half of a Yellow Sun ... will leave you reeling Stylist
Sara Novic was born in 1987, and now lives in New York City. She studied fiction and literary translation in the MFA program at Columbia University, where she is currently a teaching fellow. Sara is also the fiction editor of Blunderbuss Magazine, and the founding editor of the Deaf rights and education blog Redeafined.