Ms di Giovanni writes wonderfully well, I was particularly impressed by her very clear eye for the telling detail. She's obviously a very brave woman who is determined to tell the truth, and she deserves enormous credit for that, as others have said in their reviews. The one thing that spoils the effect of the book is the very poor (possibly non-existent) editing. The book is obviously assembled from Ms di Giovanni's despatches, and that’s the problem: the book desperately needed someone to edit out the repeat references – for example, I lost count of the number of times that we are told that Milosevic led Serbia to defeat four times in ten years. Of course that’s true, but it distracts from the content of the book to keep running across such references. And that’s the real shame: her writing is so good that it deserves much better treatment than that, and I hope she’s given the production team at Bloomsbury a rocket for such a poor effort. Despite what I’ve written above, I urge people to read the book – and also Anthony Loyd’s wonderful ‘My War Gone By, I Miss It So,’ one of the best books I’ve read about the Bosnian conflict.
It would be wrong to expect enjoyment from this book. It is not supposed to offer us, the readers, pleasure. For that we should look elsewhere. This book is an indictment and an explanation. It shows and tells who did what and why. How can people who were once neighbours and close friends butcher each other with gay abandon? Ms Giovanni does not know and says she is not qualified to say. Instead she lets the people, the guilty and the innocent, tell all. Some journalists glory in themselves, as if they were the most important people. Not Mrs Giovanni. Modest and shy she is almost invisible, a glass through who we see the Balkans. She never intrudes as a witness. This is reporting of the first rank. It would have been easy for her, a young and beautiful woman, to write herself into the story. She resists this temptation. She should write another and more personal book, explaining how she felt to watch such horrors.
To those of us who only knew Yugoslavia from our holidays it came as a bit of a shock when its peoples turned on each other with such savagery. Mrs di Giovanni was there to see all this. Writing from the heart with a winsome honesty she says she was the typical society beauty before she went to write about the war. What she saw changed her and made her realise her vocation was to bear witness with candour. She proffers no easy solutions about what happened. She does not know why. It is not for her to say why people do such things to each other. Her job is to say what happened and let us decide for ourselves. This is a superb book by a woman who has come to motherhood late.
di Giovanni's book, Madness Visible, forcibly demonstrates the idiocy of the human kind, the shear hatred that hides in many people's heads and the gossamer thin veil of civilised behaviour. It's a stark reminder of what could happen anywhere given the circumstances. Why oh why cannot we treat this planet as one, learn to be decent and altruistic with each other during the speck of time that we have to embrace all the good things.
Not sure that one can review a book about yet another conflict in the Balkans with 5 stars as it is a horrifying and traumatic account of much evil and some good.....but it tells a true story evocatively and makes for compulsive reading for anyone with an interest in that area of Europe.
Having bought this book to see if the advance raving reviews by such notables as Willaim Shawcross were merited I can say they were. To those who do not know Mrs di Giovanni spent much of the 1990s observing the cycles of Balkanese violence and vengeance from inside the cities and villages, from refugee camps, makeshift hospitals, and the homes of citizens under siege. Now, she paints a delible portrait of the war through the staggering experiences of the people who suffered it.She makes no bones about it. As someone who came to the war to become famous she admits that was her initial motive. In time she says she came to see there was more to life than that. Searching and not finding the answers, Mrs di Giovanni tried and succeeds in bringing the inhumane face of war into piercing focus: children dying from lack of medicine, soldiers numbed by and inured to the atrocities they committed; women driven to despair and madness by their experiences in paramilitary rape camps. Just listen to Mrs don Giovanni. Eloquent and moving and searingly honest: "When people ask me what Madness Visible is about, I tell them it is not about me but about life. But it is not just a book about Yugoslavia. It is about war, the nature of war, the people who wage it, the people who fight it, and the people who live it. It is about who survives, who succumbs, who betrays, who lives and who, ultimately, dies. As I was writing it, I felt that I could have changed the locations and the names of the people and the battles, and it could have been set in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Israel, in Africa, in any number of the many other wars I have reported from. This book is an attempt for people to understand what war is, to explain what it feels like to be there, what it looks like, what it smells like." This book deserves six stars!