** spoiler alert **
This is a very good book, not just in terms of a genre (hardly travel writing, more reportage) but on a larger scale, about what it means to be alive.
It opens with American Bill Carter hitching a ride to besieged Sarajevo with a rather wacky aid organisation called The Serious Road Trip, who deliver food dressed as clowns. Why is he there? Over the next few chapters we gradually learn about a difficult childhood and a love affair cut short by his girlfriend Corrina's death in a car accident. Since then Bill has been trying to make sense of his life, to no avail.
It gradually begins to seem that Bill is channelling his love for Corrina into an urgent desire to help the Sarajevans. He is far from a dispassionate observer -- he soon feels he is one of them (although not all of them would agree!). At any rate he shares their privations, living for months in a bomb-scarred office block with no electricity or water, surviving on jars of baby food. He is very far from being a professional journalist, but a chance meeting results in him setting up satellite links from Sarajevo to U2 concerts throughout Europe, thus raising awareness of the war, and he ends up making an award-winning documentary, Miss Sarajevo.
He writes beautifully and passionately about his experience and how it changed him, with lyrical, almost nostalgic reminiscences of the friends he makes in Sarajevo. Initially naive, he soon develops a painfully clear-eyed view of the horrors suffered by Bosnians, and the West's cynical and inadequate response. He is honest too (as far as one can tell), describing how after months in Sarajevo living on almost nothing, and virtuously refusing financial support, he accepts $8,000 from U2, reasoning that he is worth at least as much as the despised UN-financed bureaucrats colluding in Serb atrocities or cynical Western journalists sitting eating hot food (a rare luxury for him) in the Holiday Inn. But later he reflects that "the moment I had started to want something from my work, whether it was money, fame, or recognition, everything had stopped working."
In the end, living alone in an adobe house in Tucson, and still missing Corrina, he does achieve some kind of epiphany and the whole book is testimony to the resilience of the human spirit in extreme circumstances. Reading back over what I've written, I can see I really haven't done this terrific book justice. So just find a copy second-hand (it's out of print) and read it.