I recently spent two years living and working in Croatia and I struggled to understand the social tensions and secrets in the community around me - sensing the conspiracy of silence in the presence of outsiders, of things unsaid - a hidden but unspoken history hinted at by the abandoned chuches, empty houses and smashed memorials, conversations left unfinished. I left Croatia feeling deeply frustrated by my inability, with a few notable exceptions, to penetrate the truth of the war and the fall out from the 90's conflict. What part did my neighbours and colleagues play at the time, and how can the modern community live with these events?
What makes Aminitta Forna's novel so remarkable is that she articulates the dark, unsavoury forces that used religion, patriotism and ethnicity as their justification for atrocities that tore the community apart, and the unspoken collusion of all sides to maintain the secrets into the present day as the perpetrators and their victims still live side by side. This is fiction at its best, an engrossing narrative but also deeply insightful. This is a novel that challenges the "Year in Provence" cliché of wealthy house-buying northern Europeans meeting poor eccentric locals under the bucolic warmth of the Mediterranean sun. Aminitta Forna cleverly subverts this "summer reading" form to force us to ask questions about the fragility of modern European society and human nature itself. Through the relationship between the naive English newcomers and their hired handyman, the central character of the novel. old wounds are unwittingly opened and the community is forced to confront itself in a narrative that draws the reader deeper and deeper in at an inexorable pace. For the Krajina region of Croatia read also Northern Ireland, Rwanda and many other conflict zones. A dark book, but none the less rewarding and engrossing.