' senior foreign correspondent, Janine di Giovanni's Madness Visible
is powerful, dramatic and tragic. War is often as absurd as it is brutal, as squalid and meaningless as it is destructive. As Giovanni says, "[h]alf of a soldier's life is boredom. The other half is unexpected." Whilst this is often heartbreaking reportage (which should be read if only to further bring home the horror of a war that raged in at the end of the 20th century in the middle of Europe) it is not a great book if the reader is seeking deeper understanding of the historical events. The weaknesses lie in Giovanni's lack of a historical and political overview-this is often surprisingly contextless violence. While we anecdotally-and consequentially--learn much about the war as we pass through its victims' stories, Giovanni offers little analysis about how the war happened, how the response to it could have been better handled, and whether or not it could have been prevented. Giovanni is often in danger of ridiculing the gang of Serbs who initially holed up in Pale to direct the war (Koljevic, Karadzic) or those who took part in Dayton (Milosovic, Biljana Plavsic), thus threatening to disenable our ability to see how their violent nationalistic hypocrisy was allowed to flower. There is a concomitant danger in the book when it suggests that clever middle-class outsider children, whose parents were disenfranchised by the old communists, held a grudge for years that suddenly boiled over. While there maybe something to these psychologisms (they echo some of what is sometimes said of the Nazis) it actually sheds very scant light on the nature of human evil and the nature of a the historical/political context that allows it to flourish.
The great strength of the book is that Giovanni allows the (mostly Bosnian) voices of the Balkans to speak. If her sometimes clichéd journalese grates, somehow this never makes the book any the less powerful. While there are better books on the Balkans (Misha Glenny and Noel Malcolm are both good starting points) this has the advantage of being very current (Giovanni writes some dispatches, looking back at the war, continuing to interview those still hugely, horribly affected by it, in 2000), very moving and very humane. --Mark Thwaite
"Janine di Giovanni is superb - an extraordinarily brave war correspondent and a wonderful writer as well." - -- WILLIAM SHAWCROSS
"Wholly memorable, entirely unsettling: one of the best pieces of reportage to come from the Balkan abattoir." -- Kirkus Review
If you read no other book about the Balkan wars, read this one. -- Philip Caputo
A harrowing firsthand account of a regions spiral into madness. -- Publishers Weekly
Janine DiGiovanni has described war in a way that almost makes me think it never needs to be described again.' -- Sebastian Junger