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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 14 January 2001
What can I say about this book? It's incredible. When I started reading, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed. Sacco was going round, meeting people, socialising, not saying a lot about the war, and when he did mention it, it was all stuff I already knew, that anyone who's watched the news while it was going on knows. The backdrops indicated the war, the poverty was obvious, but I didn't feel like I was learning anything apart from seeing people sit around, drink, and chat. And then, about a third of the way through, boom. Suddenly it hit me. These people, I was starting to feel like I knew them. And then one left for the front line. And I was terrified to turn the page. I knew that he might not come back. And that this was a real man, not some work of fiction. And it was at that point, that the whole cruel, callousness of the war hit, and at that point, I started to learn something. Detail. Detail I'd never seen before, and might have been happier never knowing. And told by humans, real people. And it still terrifies me. This book has the potted history of the war, the enclave, and the human factor that we miss in so many, many of the war reports we're used to seeing. Sacco spent four weeks in Gorazde, and in that time he lived with some of the residents. And it's given him an insight into the place that I don't think you'll find anywhere else.
Oh, and a final note. It's a graphic novel. A comic. And this shouldn't put you off. This is one of the finest uses of the medium I've seen, and helps tell the story in a way straight prose can't. The horror presented starkly in front of you is something I doubt many can imagine, even through the greatest descriptions, because we don't want to. Here you have nowhere to hide. Buy this book. You will not regret it.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 February 2002
While graphic novels have been around for quite a while, graphic journalism or history has not. Sacco is a pioneer of this extremely humanistic new genre, and here he bears witness to the horrors of the war in Bosnia. Sacco visited the so-called "safe area" four times in late 1995 and early 1996, and his portrait of a devastated city and its survivors is more affecting than any newspaper account could hope to be. His black ink panels capture in vivid detail not only the scars left on the landscape, but on the people themselves. Sacco alternates between detailing his own visits to Gorazde, a straightforward history of the war, and letting his friends and interviewees recount their own terrible experiences.
His own visits are fairly basic, everyone is frightened and devastated by the war and he experiences the guilt of one able to come and go as he pleases. The history of the war is very clearly told, with maps and pertinent statements from UN leaders, Clinton, Milosavich, et al. Sacco clearly highlights how ineffective and downright cowardly the UN approach was, singling out British Lt. General Rose and French Lt. General Janvier for lying and dissembling in order to avoid conflict, and the Clinton administration for being inept and vacillating toward the Serbs. The history is a stark reminder that in the absence of a superpower with a vested interest, one cannot expect loose multinational efforts to deter genocide. Throughout the war, due to a total lack of leadership and moral will from above, UN forces were pushed around, held hostage, and at times fled into the night rather than protect the civilians they were supposed to. Which brings one to the most compelling and disturbing parts of the book. Sacco supplies images to the testimonials of survivors and witnesses to execution, rape, nonstop civilian shelling, snipers, and even poison gas. Most of the voices from Gorazde are those of Muslim inhabitants or refugees "cleansed" from other areas, and while the stories are chilling enough, what also disturbs is the confusion and pain these people feel because in many cases, it was their former Serb neighbors who participated in it.
Sacco's artistic style may not be to everyone's taste, and certainly this is only a slice of the larger war, but he bears witness and hopefully makes the reader more conscious of the failings of leadership in preventing what was supposed to be "never again." American loves to pat itself on the back for kicking ass in the "good war" against the Nazis, but somehow we've managed to avoid any responsibility for allowing genocide to continue, even when it's been clearly within our ability to do so.
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on 19 July 2014
For anyone who 'missed' the war this is an immense read from both a very localised perspective but also it gives the overall picture and causes of the conflict. One could be forgiven for dismissing the 'comic' book style outright but I can only confirm with others that it is a masterly approach to bringing a conflict to life. It is a work of art on one level and a literary one also.
I was old enough to understand the war when it took place but found that it was delivered on the news in a way that failed to illustrate the causes and therefore without the foundations to understand what was going on it passed me by.
I bought this together with Martin Bell's ( BBC journalist) 'In Harms Way'. Both are great books in their own right and I now feel enlightened and have a far greater understanding that would enable me to hold my own in any discussion about it.
I have also bought the memoirs of Colonel Bob Stewart, who commanded the 1st Cheshire's in their tour as UN peacekeepers, but am yet to read it.
This tragic episode in post WW" history has largely been passed over although its repercussions are still being contested in the Court at Hague and the Dutch Courts because of their guilt over the atrocities that they could have perhaps prevented.
Any doubts...don't it.
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on 24 September 2015
Superb account of the awful war in Bosnia. Brings together the large picture and individual stories to create a gripping account of a journalist's time in Goražde. Telling the story in the form of a graphic novel is stunning. First time I've read a graphic novel written about "real" life - and I was very impressed.
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on 18 October 2013
What I liked about this book was the very matter-of-fact personal account of the conflict it presented. The drawing style evokes the ruined town and it's people in a stark and rather brutal way. The faces are lined and often ugly, everything looks grimy and worn out. The bodies of dead farm animals litter the streets. The horror of this situation is very well realised. I was also very pleased to see an author feature the stories of some Bosnian Serbs who stayed behind when the others left. This group of people are often ignored in conventional accounts of the war that present it in very absolute terms. Many Serbs believed in Izetbegovic's idea of a multi-ethnic Bosnia and wanted to stay in their communities, but they were too afraid. A small group of very brave people did stay behind with their muslim neighbours. Sadly the brutality of the war scarred everyone. I've never heard one of these people tell their story before, so it was nice to encounter it here.
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on 14 November 2014
An absolutely amazing take on the war in Bosnia.
Country which survived a three pronged agression by its neighbours, Serbia, Montenegro and Croatia (1993-1994), with an unhelpful UN to say at least on top and with an international embargo on weapon imports deserves the best and with this book, it got it from Joe Sacco. Well done Joe, you are a legend for taking the time to write and in particular illustrate your experiences.
The book is a must have for all those who are keen to know what actually happened in Bosnia, and what the meaning, the true meaning is of SERBIAN EXTREMISM whose bandits and gang of Tchetnik Ultra-Orthodox terrorists did not stop from doing such crimes as killing or even impalling babies, cutting off breasts of mothers whose babies were thrown of the Visegrad Bridge and into the cold river Drina, from mass raping girls as young as 9 and torturing and mass murdering boys and men simply because of their ethnicity.
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on 17 March 2001
This book manages to make history and current events real in a way that CNN etc will never manage. Sacco populates his book with real people who survive the most God-awful experiences possible with humour and hope. Even the characters who appear but briefly are so strongly drawn that you care about what happens to them. The honesty of the writing is on a par with the likes of journalists like John Pilger and it is almost a shame that this has been produced in a comic strip format because it will put of those readers who hold the strange prejudice that comics are for children.
If you buy this don't just keep it to yourself, share it with the people you care about who care about the world. This will make them understand the human cost of ignoring ethnic cleansing.
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on 11 November 2007
Whether you like graphic novels or not, this is one of the best and most accurate works on this war.
Some of the people I know who were there at the time (and had an aversion to comics in any form) recognised the value of this book and the atmosphere, the places and sometimes the people. They now have it on their bookshelf and recommend it as one of the best books to describe what it was like during these days and what happened.

From a purely "graphic novel" point of view, it is also among the best I have read and shows how easy it is to be an ordinary person and end-up having an extraordinary life (good or bad) in an extreme context.

In a recent interview Joe Sacco said that after reading his book, the people that helped him make it and often are depicted in the pages stated that, had they known what the result was going to be, they would have helped him more.

Beware: some scenes may haunt you for long after.
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on 12 November 2014
If you have any interest in the Bosnian War (or war journalism in general), this is well worth reading. It's really a collection of illustrated eye-witness accounts, in graphic novel form. If you sit down to read it expecting something like cinema on paper, with a structure and a plot, you may be surprised to find that this is more like a comic book documentary: the 'characters' are people the author met in the aftermath of the war, and their anecdotes vary from banal to horrifying. It's undeniably one-sided (the interviewees are Bosniak residents of Gorazde), but the insight it offers into the experiences of a small number of people in a town that didn't feature strongly in contemporary coverage of the war is valuable and powerful.
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on 6 July 2013
I have only recently discovered Sacco's works and it pains me, because had I discovered his graphic novels while I was at university, they would have made for interesting background reading for some of the subjects I came to study. Safe Area Gorazde is thought provoking and at times hard to read, if only because it paints a vivid and unapologetic image of the hardships and betrayals that the Islamic people's of Gorazde (and the wider Bosnia) faced during a the early nineties. Do not be disheartened however, as light relief is easily found in the inspiring characters Sacco surrounds himself with over the course of his visits.

The overarching story this piece ultimately tells is one of the United Nations' ineptitude throughout the majority of the bloody affair that is the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the resultant Balkan war. At times I found myself more appalled at Western inactivity than at Serbian atrocities. Sacco may well stand as one of the UN's most ardent critics, even if poorly acknowledged.
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