Published by Random House Publishing Group on May 12, 2015
Genres: Coming of Age, Fiction, Literary, War & Military
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
Zagreb, 1991. Ana Jurić is a carefree ten-year-old, living with her family in a small apartment in Croatia’s capital. But that year, civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, splintering Ana’s idyllic childhood. Daily life is altered by food rations and air raid drills, and soccer matches are replaced by sniper fire. Neighbors grow suspicious of one another, and Ana’s sense of safety starts to fray. When the war arrives at her doorstep, Ana must find her way in a dangerous world.
New York, 2001. Ana is now a college student in Manhattan. Though she’s tried to move on from her past, she can’t escape her memories of war—secrets she keeps even from those closest to her. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, Ana returns to Croatia after a decade away, hoping to make peace with the place she once called home. As she faces her ghosts, she must come to terms with her country’s difficult history and the events that interrupted her childhood years before.
Moving back and forth through time, Girl at War is an honest, generous, brilliantly written novel that illuminates how history shapes the individual. Sara Nović fearlessly shows the impact of war on one young girl—and its legacy on all of us. It’s a debut by a writer who has stared into recent history to find a story that continues to resonate today.
Once I picked up Girl at War, I could not put it down. Everything I want in a novel is in this book: Vivid settings and situations, characters that feel completely real, a writing style that compels me to devour the story, and perfect pacing.
There were moments so terrible I could barely breathe, but I had to keep reading. God, the bewilderment that comes with a child-perspective of an unfolding war:
“…what did Milošević mean when he said the country needed to be cleansed, and how was a war supposed to help when the explosions were making such a big mess? Why did the water keep running out if the pipes were underground, and if the bombings were breaking the pipes, were we any safer in the shelters than in our houses?”
“I didn’t understand why the Yugoslav National Army would want to attack Croatia, which was full of Yugoslavian people, but when I asked my father he just sighed and closed the paper.”
The novel doesn’t focus solely on the events of the war, but also on its aftermath. The narrative begins in the past, then flows seamlessly between past and present, and finally settles into Ana’s present. We see Ana process these events and her actions, as well as her feelings about them, as they occurred and years later.
Girl at War brings up questions that have no answers. It had me thinking about PTSD, about Fred Rogers’s view of war as child abuse, about the privilege of fighting war on someone else’s soil.
“What war meant in America was so incongruous with what had happened in Croatia—what must have been happening in Afghanistan—that it almost seemed a misuse of the word.”
Yet despite its heavy premise, Nović somehow manages to write with a light hand, leaving room for the horrors of this story to reach the reader in a full, authentic way. This debut novel is not one to miss.