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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 September 2011
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Amazon blurb outlines the plot so I won't repeat that: it would also spoil the book for new readers to give away too much. I liked much of this book but thought that it lost its way somewhat as the two main plot strands - motherhood and war - are developed separately, diverge and then blend back together.

On the plus side, the `present' narrative is done well: the sense of return to a place from the past as Gemma revisits Sarajevo after sixteen years; the city itself and its inhabitants, both scarred and fragile as they attempt to regain some kind of normality.

The run-up to, and outbreak of, the war in the `past' narrative is also vivid and chilling: the small beginnings that no-one expects to turn into such a conflagration, the snipers, the casual savagery, the camps.

However, in between these two there is an extended story of Gemma's obsessive quest for a baby and motherhood, most of which is set in her home country of Italy. This is personal taste, but I found this whole section a distraction from the main narrative which feels like it's been put on hold to get this bit out on paper.

I also found the style a bit irritating as it feels like the author is artificially reaching for a pseudo-poetic style with tangled up similes and metaphors: a boy's eyelashes like `a row of bare trees in the snow, earth cut in two by a trench'; Sarajevo as a `pita bread stuffed full of the dead'; regret as `a tired old man who can't climb over the gates we build'. This might be a flaw in the translation, maybe these work in the original Italian, but they created a barrier between me and the story.

So overall my reaction to this book is a little mixed: there are some very powerful aspects to the story and overall I liked it a lot. The whole thing could have been made tauter and more robust at points, especially the middle section. The last third, however, really comes together brilliantly leaving the story lingering hauntingly in my mind. Recommended.
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on 25 July 2011
"Don't Move" by Margaret Mazzantini I thought was a great novel - about the disturbing side of our emotional life and in the central character a psychologically compelling account of "splitting" between conflicting impulses. So I approached this new novel with high expectations.

This too deals with disturbing themes, played out on a large scale in the siege of Sarajevo, ethnic cleansing, and the horrors of war. All this is experienced by a young Italian couple and Bosnian friends; and revisited 16 years later by the Italian mother with her 16 year old son.

There's no doubting the ambition of this novel, or the power of the plotting - which it's certainly worth reading at first hand and so it's best for me not to cover this in any detail here. The translation is very much into American English (diapers, spit-up and so on) but that is only mildly offputting. Overall, though, I found it packed a less powerful punch than "Don't Move". And indeed other books about the same war, notably Slavenka Drakulovic's "As If I Am Not There".
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Since reading and enjoying Steven Galloway's The Cellist of Sarajevo and The Girl in the Film by Charlotte Eager, I'm irresistibly drawn to novels set around the Bosnian crisis and this one is a corker. The writing is quite superb - matter-of-fact and poetic in its descriptions by turn - sometimes too poetic, but I think that's to do with the translation. The modern story of Gemma's troubled relationship with her teenage son Pietro is well told and engaging through the return to Sarajevo sixteen years on. The story of the past - her relationship with the photographer Diego, their efforts to have a child, and the dramatic time in Sarajevo are riveting - although the efforts to secure a child were sometimes a little drawn out for my liking. But the start of the siege of Sarajevo - normality falling apart - is incredibly well told. This is a book full of love, passion, family, and it really worked for me. Not the easiest of reads on a number of levels, but really rewarding.
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on 21 June 2013
Together with her sixteen-year-old son Pietro, Gemma travels to Sarajevo, the city where Pietro was born in 1993 during the siege and the place where Gemma's husband Diego and the love of her life was killed. Gemma and Diego's story is told through numerous flashbacks as the reader returns to Sarajevo with fifty+ year-old Gemma who's trying to come to terms with the past and the Diego's death. Thus the reader finds out that unable to have children of her own and after many heart-breaking attempts, Gemma convinced Diego to "hire" a surrogate mother, a young Bosnian Muslim woman. This is the basic premise of the novel, BUT there is so much more to this complex story then that.

I have to admit that the reason I gave the book "only" four stars has to do with the fact that the first half of the book is rather slow-going (this is where Gemma and Diego meet and fall in love and try to have a child of their own, and all the main characters are introduced). While Gemma's all-consuming desire to have a child from the man she loves is portrayed well, I wished for a little more "action" and found the author's language a bit "crass" at times (I'll admit I'm not a fan of profanities in literature). In addition, on an emotional level I had trouble connecting with Gemma and didn't really get her feelings for Diego. The second half of the book, however, more than makes up for the occasional slowness of the first half. This part cleverly brings all the different threads of the story together. Emotionally it packs a punch and I defy even the most hard-hearted reader not to shed a tear and be haunted by the story long after closing Mazzantini's novel.
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on 6 May 2013
enjoyable but Too often i had to force myself to continue reading it. It's extremely sad and not just for the argument treated. The introspective of the author is borderline dark. Too often I was left feeling depressed and a sense of anguish is transpiring throughout. The book is beautiful and the theme is indeed a sad one but the many details and argumentation , risk to turn the book tedious. This is one of the reasons I gave four stars.. Coupled with this I did not like the translation and found the printing errors (at least in the kindle version) distracting. I enjoyed the ending more than the rest of the book for the (finally) note of optimism.
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on 20 May 2013
This was a very intriguing read. I was drawn in to the story although at first I found it difficult to like the main character. However, I did understand that someone in her rather uneventful life might be attracted to something or someone just a bit different. What made it more interesting for me was the personal history of the seige of Sarajevo. Some of the book made for very painful reading, all the more so as it reflected the real life situation of that terrible war. This was the first time I had heard of this author but hope to read more by her.
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on 8 September 2013
I really liked this novel, from the graphic similes to the fractured rat-a-tat of eras changing, quick fire. The main character, Gemma, was made all the more real by her sometimes unlikeable demeanour - are we not all imperfect protagonists in our own life stories?

It's an engaging read which has captured my imagination and done what other books have not done in recent months: made me think. As yet, I don't want to start another novel because I am happy to think about this one still.
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on 19 April 2013
It's been a long time since I've read a book that has impacted me as much as Twice Born. I couldn't predict what was going to happen, and I couldn't put it down, either. The beginning drags a bit, and sometimes I wasn't sure if I really "liked" the main characters, but that's okay. Overally it's written very well. My only complaint (and it's minor) is that there seemed to be product placement in the book.... ? Why mention specific brands when just generalisms would be better?
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on 3 October 2011
A great read. There is so much passion, romance, heartbreak and history in this book.

If I had a criticism I would say that it sometimes reads like the author went on holiday to Bosnia and wanted to get absolutely everything into it - the diversion to Mostar for example was a distraction from the otherwise powerful plot.
She even managed to get in the Cevapcici!

But overall a great book that was a very moving love story between two people and a great city.
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