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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surviving ethnic cleansing, 11 April 2009
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This review is from: Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia (Paperback)
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.
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