on 11 April 2009
Originally written in 2002 but only recently translated into English, this bleak, chilling and compelling book takes its title from a child's description of his mother grinding her teeth as she dreams she is visited by her murdered husband.
The author does not attempt to explain the Bosnian conflict nor does he particularly put events into context. This is a story of genocide rather than a history of the war. Central to the narrative is the work of Polish-American-Icelandic anthropologist Dr Ewa Kolowski and her obsessive quest to identify victims from their remains, usually clothing and bones.
Writing in spare, almost deadpan prose the author describes horror upon horror without explicit comment although in places his appalled outrage can clearly be felt. He doesn't go into great detail about what was done to the victims but his restraint makes the information he does share all the more hideous - the practice of shooting prisoners first through the pelvis "just in case" they tried to run from the real execution; old people too infirm to cross mountains to safety being left behind ("The abandoned old people did not need the food they had for long. Their throats were cut. Their bodies were torn apart by wolves that dragged their bones all over the district"); the awful story of Nebosja and Edna who had been boy- and girlfriend before the conflict and who became torturer and victim during it. Little is said about what he did to her but in two brief, icy sentences the outcome is described: "When he had finished Edna was barely alive. Today Nebosja B lives in Prijedor and works for the police." Later we learn that Edna was helped on to a bus and never seen again until her bones were identified.
The stories of people like Edna and Hasan, a popular, hardworking vet who killed himself with a grenade rather than fall into Serbian hands, will linger long in the memory. Like Eating a Stone is a masterpiece which shows with frightening clarity what happens when civilisation breaks down.
This Polish writen book on the ethnic cleansing that occurred in Bosnia against the Muslim population is like the books of that other great Polish travel writer Kapuscinski, written in simple episodes and vignettes that portray the whole larger story of events with great force. This story is also written retrospectively so is seen solely through the eyes of the survivors, many of whom are still searching for family members who went missing during the conflicts that tore communities apart. That in turn provides the harrowing platform as the story tells how mass graves are found and the dead given the time that has elapsed since their deaths can only be identified by bones and any remanants of clothing found. Claims by family members on such bones needs DNA matches before the remains uncovered can be buried and the Muslim families feel they have said goodbye to their dead.
Tochman weaves his story around a number of visits to such events with overlaps occurring between personal memories of the survivors and the inhumanities they saw and suffered especially at the hands of the Serb forces, with the work of the foreign specialists who now help in this medical detective work, piecing bodies together from the remains of bones found in mass hidden graves.
What the book also shows is that whatever the peace settlement that was brokered by the USA with Serbia and Bosnia including in theory but not reality the reinstatement of seized homes to prior owners, it has done very little to fix the deep hatreds that will remain as a result of recent events. The poverty that is the aftermath of the war for all, both victors and losers, is sad proof that ultimately nobody has escaped the fallout from the conflict even though many of the local Serb perpetrators involved in ethnic cleansing seem to face little threat of legal prosecution from the evidence presented.
The author Alan Paton once wrote: "When a deep injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive". Based on this book's evidence, that forgiveness will be a long time coming in Bosnia at least.
on 8 December 2011
I travel to Bosnia to do voluntary work with the survivors of this Balkan war, and work in these areas with these people. This book gives a very true account of happenings, events and atrocities that occured, and are what we hear our patients telling us. A very good but at times harrowing read, but the world should be aware of what goes on in war and what passes as war crime. They are still suffering and trying to rebuild their lives even now.
on 28 September 2015
Really easy and difficult book to read at the same time. I finished it in three sittings. The author covers so many different stories but not in much detail, although the information he gives you, if you contemplate it is at times horrifying.
The book is easy to read in the way it is written, short chapters detailing a number of characters lives. It gets straight into it and not a single sentence seems superfluous. It is difficult to read purely because of it's content and because at times it jumps from one story to another.
This book left me at the verge of tears on numerous occasions. I would definitely suggest everyone read it, it is such a short and easy to read book, it puts your own life into perspective as well as opening you up to a way of life you never thought imaginable. I wish this was on the school curriculum here in Europe.