Rk's Reviews > Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo

Zlata's Diary by Zlata Filipović
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's review
Jul 04, 2009

it was amazing

Bosnian War conflict, history, etc

Zlata’s diary is an autobiographical narrative of an eleven-year-old girl’s experiences during the Bosnian War and the siege of Sarajevo. The memoir account—which parallel’s Anne Frank’s diary in numerous ways—captures the horrors of war through a child’s eyes and conveys the mixed emotions, including fear, anger, and even, compassion, that result from her watching the mayhem unfold. Despite its vivid descriptions of bloodshed, violence, and death, the story carries strong themes of hope and survival, of tolerance and understanding.

The book contends with cultural clashes in Sarajevo that fueled the acts of genocide and war crimes that were committed during the Bosnian War. Zlata, who never reveals her background, often describes her close circle of family and friends, which includes, Croats, Serbs, and Muslims. She attributes the cause and discontents of war exclusively to the failure of politicians, who are said to have created divisions between the different ethnic/religious groups. She contends, at one point, “Ordinary people don't want this division, because it won't make anybody happy […:] but who asks ordinary people?" (May 4, 1993). Before reading the book, I knew very little about the country and its culture. Being a Muslim, I am somewhat familiar with the practices of Bosnian Muslims, but Zlata’s book makes little to no religious references. Though it may help to have some background knowledge of the political conditions in Bosnia that led to the civil war, new readers of Zlata’s Diary need not be familiar with the features of the Bosnian culture, as—in fact—Zlata is very much submerged in the American culture (i.e., watches MTV’s American Top 20, loves pizza) and so, many of her daily normal experiences are very relatable to the average American’s.

As mentioned, Zlata describes different aspects of both Bosnian and American culture, primarily that pertaining to the media and food. She recalls making cevapcici (grilled meat rolls) while visiting her grandparents in the beautiful town of Crnotina and talks about missing some of her favorite Bosnian sweet treats when war makes it hard to find them in the stores. She also talks about her Christmas experiences; about sleeping in on a Saturday morning after a long week; about going to her friend Ivana’s party; summer vacations; about watching her Grandmother make apple strudel; her piano and choir practice; and catching Top Gun. Her depictions of the cultures, though not in-depth, are believable and accurate. She embraces both cultures and straddles them without experiencing any real identity conflicts.

Although unresolved cultural conflicts escalated to war, throughout the book, Zlata tends to be more preoccupied with how the war directly affects her life more so than with its cause (the battle between cultures). The book is, nonetheless, a great interdisciplinary, primary source for both literacy and social studies classes as it contains the first-hand account of a teenager’s life prior to and during war. It gives clear records of the war—of the day-to-day bombings (the cause of her childhood friend’s death), of the TV news announcements, of Bosnia’s political realities and oppression. The book is age appropriate, accurate, and informative—and just a plain ol’ good read.

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