Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
Overwhelming novel of love and war
on 29 January 2012
An Italian woman returns to Sarajevo with her teenage son to revisit the places and people she and his father knew during the fighting there.
This was an incredibly intense read - I both wanted to read it and didn't want to read it at the same time as I was afraid I wouldn't be able to cope with learning what had gone on. I found myself reading in short bursts and having to steel myself to pick it up again each time I put it down. But it was so compelling that I absolutely had to get to the end, however difficult that was going to be.
Right from the beginning of the novel there is a sense of unease, enough to let you know that Gemms's return to Sarajevo will uncover truths that we will find hard to deal with. The reader has a sketchy idea of what might have happened, but when the truth was revealed it was way beyond anything I could have imagined and was deeply shocking. While I had been expecting some of the revelations in the plot, a major occurence towards the end of the book completely blindsided me. It felt like so many terrible things had happened that there couldn't possibly be anything else to fear - how wrong could a reader be?
As Gemma is an outsider in Sarajevo we see things through her eyes which means that the book doesn't much examine the causes of the conflict or look at the politics of it. We're shown it from an outsiders perspective, which is what we are too.
As with all novels in translation it's hard to tell what comes from the novelist and what comes from the translator, but apart from a couple of places where American spelling and phrasing jarred me I wasn't aware of any awkwardness in the language. The way the book is written is quite rat-a-tat-tat - lots of short scenes interspersed with longer ones. It's quite filmic in a way, with lots of fast cuts.
Saying I liked the book or enjoyed it doesn't really convey how I felt about it. It's an astonishing piece of work and it's something I'm glad I read, but I wouldn't want to put myself through it again.