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Girl at War

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Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia's capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival.

Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She's been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she's lost.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published May 12, 2015

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About the author

Sara Nović

6 books1,229 followers
Sara Nović is author of the NYT best-seller TRUE BIZ, as well as the novel GIRL AT WAR, (2015, winner American Library Association Alex Award, longlist Women's Prize, finalist for the LA Times Fiction prize) and the illustrated nonfiction collection AMERICA IS IMMIGRANTS (2019). She's an instructor of creative writing and Deaf studies, and lives in Philly with her family.

Visit her on the web at http://sara-novic.com or
[twitter] @novicsara
[insta] @photonovic

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,210 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,978 reviews170k followers
June 22, 2018
In America I'd learned quickly what it was okay to talk about and what I should keep to myself. "It's terrible what happened there," people would say when I let slip my home country and explained that it was the one next to Bosnia. They'd heard about Bosnia; the Olympics had been there in '84.

this is one of those debut novels that makes you really really excited for the future of fiction.

everything about this book is phenomenal. her writing is fluid, her characters are vivid, and she brings a strong perspective and voice to subject matter that is serious and important while resisting the temptation to play it sentimental.

it is about a ten-year-old croatian girl's coming of age in zagreb, in the midst of civil war. it covers the innocent times just before the conflict, the horrible events she witnessed during, the things she did to stay alive, her escape to new york, the difficulties of adjusting to a "normal" life, having seen all that she had seen at such a young age, and how her past affects her adult self.

there is a slight detachment in the narrator's voice that is spectacular - hers is a clear-eyed assessment of a situation that would only be cheapened by employing a heavily emotional tone. my beloved jonathan dee, in his blurb for this book, calls this "ruthless understatement" which proves he is a much better writer than i am.

there's such economy to her prose, so much bubbling underneath the actual words:

…when they got to the photos of the mass graves, I slipped out a side door and vomited in a potted plant. I didn't come back for the rest of the presentation, not wanting to see someone I recognized.

there are several memorable moments that will smolder in the mind long afterwards. so many carefully-written scenes that seem small in scale, but resonate.

The sandbags were supposed to be strongholds we could stand behind and shoot from if the Serbs came to capture us. But instead of a sense of safety, the barricade imparted an air of naïveté. It was as if we believed a flood of tanks was like a flood of water and could be stopped by a pile of sacks. It was as if we'd never seen the footage of the tank plowing over the little red Fićo in the streets of Osijek, of an army truck crushing a passenger bus into a ditch on the side of the road. It was as if it never occurred to anyone that blocking the incoming roads was the same as blocking the escape routes.

she writes so well of the adaptability of children who find themselves in a war-torn world

By the end of the week we'd absorbed the sandbags into our playscape. War quickly became our favorite game and soon we had given up the park altogether.

and the way her memories of war are wrapped up with her memories of childhood

As jarring as the guns were to the pale crowd before me, for many of us they were synonymous with youth, coated in the same lacquer of nostalgia that glosses anyone's childhood.

and the quiet ache of a childhood uprooted, turned fierce.

The girls in the picture were strangers, but they could have just as easily been me. Caught in that void between childhood and puberty, skin still smooth but limbs gawky from growth spurts. Each held a Kalashnikov across her chest. The taller girl had her other arm over the shorter one's shoulder; they might have been sisters. Both gave half smiles to the camera, as if they remembered from another time that one was supposed to smile in photographs.

it's beautifully done, from start to finish. there's an immediacy to the writing that is incredibly compelling, whether she is writing about bloodshed and terror or about her discomfort in talking about her experiences to americans, who are well-intentioned but lack any comparable background which would allow them to truly understand.

Their musings about how and why people stayed in a country under such terrible conditions were what I hated most. I knew it was ignorance, not insight that prompted these questions. They asked because they hadn't smelled the air raid smoke or the scent of singed flesh on their own balconies; they couldn't fathom that such a dangerous place could still harbor all the feelings of home.

the way she finds herself softening the blows, pulling the punches of the details of her memories when speaking of them to americans is heartbreaking. everything about her transition to america is heartbreaking, actually. it's tender and scalding all at once.

i feel like this book will be a strong contender for any of the awards people give to books, and it is accessible enough for use in any book club. it is powerful and absolutely perfect.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Nataliya.
744 reviews11.8k followers
April 26, 2023
"The war in Zagreb began over a pack of cigarettes."
'Serbian or Croatian?' asked the grumpy kiosk clerk, and the world of ten-year-old Ana Juric in the Zagreb summer of 1991 changed forever. From the slogans and air raids and simple childhood war games imitating the ever-worsening, ever more atrocious war in the Balkans - "War quickly became our favorite game and soon we had given up the park altogether" - to the life-shattering moment in the roadside wood (the horror of the chapter title "They Both Fell" when the actual meaning sinks in) to the child soldier mutely assembling an automatic rifle (“Forward grip, gas chamber, cleaning rod, bolt, frame, magazine, function check") to the field in which you need to shoot first before you are slaughtered.
“But when they got to the photos of the mass graves, I slipped out a side door and vomited in a potted plant. I didn’t come back for the rest of the presentation, not wanting to see someone I recognized.”
Who cares that you are ten and should play soccer and ride bikes and have parents to take care of you - war does not discriminate based on age.
"The girls in the picture were strangers, but they could have just as easily been me. Caught in that void between childhood and puberty, skin still smooth but limbs gawky from growth spurts. Each held a Kalashnikov across her chest. The taller girl had her other arm over the shorter one's shoulder; they might have been sisters. Both gave half smiles to the camera, as if they remembered from another time that one was supposed to smile in photographs."

War is the unthinkable evil, yet even more devastating when seen through the eyes of a child. A child to whom the things that adults inexplicably find value in - ethnic squabbles, politics, commerce, centuries-old grudges, and endless attempts to find something that would separate you from ones you decide are your enemies - all those things would pale into pathetic insignificance once standing at the edge of a makeshift mass grave in a cold dank roadside wood where 'afternoon sunlight was swallowed by shadows' and where life as she knows ended. Stupid, senseless and beyond cruel way to say goodbye to childhood.
“A shot. My mother swayed on the rim of the muddy cavity. A dot of crimson appeared at the curve of her lip, streamed down her chin. She seemed to hover there, as if she’d jumped on purpose, landing quietly, not with the thud of the others before her.”

“But the blood formed a pattern like a map to comprehension and I understood the differences all at once. I understood how one family could end up in the ground and another could be allowed to continue on its way, that the distinction between Serbs and Croats was much vaster than ways of writing letters. I understood the bombings, the afternoons sitting on the floor of my flat with black fabric covering the windows, the nights spent in concrete rooms. I understood that my father was not getting up.”
Ana Juric never really escaped that forest. How can you, really? Having been a child in the war, a child witnessing the slaughter of her family, a child with a gun, how can you ever feel anything but “not at home in the world”? How can you make others understand?
“Their musings about how and why people stayed in a country under such terrible conditions were what I hated most. I knew it was ignorance, not insight that prompted these questions. they asked because they hadn't smelled the air raid smoke or the scent of singed flesh on their own balconies; they couldn't fathom that such a dangerous place could still harbor all the feelings of home.”
Sara Novic's debut novel is close to perfect. Wonderfully paced, skillfully written, at times hauntingly lyrical and at other times almost cruelly real, vivid and well-balanced between the horror of the past and the weight of the present, it is among of the best books I've read in the last few years. It avoids most of the false notes that are so easy to hit in a book based on such a soul-shattering premise. It's fresh and sound and very, very good.

It should leave you thinking for a while once you turn the last page. At least it did that for me.

Excellent book. 5 stars.
"In Croatia, life in wartime had meant a loss of control, war holding sway over every thought and movement, even while you slept. It did not allow for forgetting. But America’s war did not constrain me, it did not cut off my water or shrink my food supply. There was no threat of takeover with tanks and foot soldiers or cluster bombs, not here. What war meant in America was so incongruous with what happened in Croatia-what must be happening in Afghanistan-that it almost seemed a misuse of the word."
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
453 reviews660 followers
April 5, 2017
Wow! This book really packs a punch and takes you by surprise. Girl at War tells the story of Ana Jurić, who when the story begins is 10 years old, without a care in the world, running around the streets of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. The story is told in told in four parts. When Anna is 10 and war breaks out across Yugoslavia. Her young sister is quite sick and needs a doctor. So the family takes her to a doctor and on the way home, tragedy strikes. One of the most shocking things I've read in a book lately changes Anna's life forever. It then switches to Anna at 20, living in New York City, trying to come to grasps with her past. Then, she goes back to Croatia and tells of her time after that fateful day, where she becomes a child soldier and ultimately, her escape from Croatia. Finally, in the end, she goes back to places from her past, to deal with her past.

I knew a bit about this book from all the hype it got when it was released. It's been on my list to read since and I finally decided to grab the audio. While listening, perhaps I got relaxed with the book in the beginning, and then when that fateful day approaches, it completely took me by surprise. Perhaps this was also how Anna felt, the war sneaking up on her and then exploding into her life. I was shocked and listened to it again, just to make sure I heard it clearly. The story goes back and forth in time to tell Anna's story. The story reads as if it is a true story that the author is telling. But it's fiction. And it's an amazing story. One that I'm finally glad I read/listened to.

The audio was an issue for me. The narrator had a lovely, soothing voice. But I could not stand the voices of other characters that she did. It was quite distracting in the beginning. Especially the male voices. It bugged me how some voices had accents and some did not. Eventually I got used to it and was more captivated by the story itself.

A great first book from Sara Novic and I look forward to what she gives us next.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,735 reviews14.1k followers
September 6, 2015
3.5 Ana is ten years old and living in Zagreb, Croatia's capitol city with her mother, father and very ill baby sister, when war breaks out. Seeing it as the only way to save her daughter, the family makes a journey that will change Ana and her family's lives in a horrific way and plunge Ana right into the middle of the war.

This novel goes back and forth in time, Croatia and America, ten years later when Ana is now a college student. How she arrived here from there is the subject of this novel as is her child self's experiences of war. Her young adult's self trying to come to terms with what she experienced during her short time involved in the war is both horrific and terrifying. Ana, herself is a most likable character, at least that is how I found her to be. The war, genocide and the huge amounts of people killed were abominable as is all genocide. Ana's character and relationships helped make this bearable. The novel ends in a very hopeful manner and I was very glad of that. An amazingly written first novel about an important part of recent past history.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,121 reviews1,203 followers
April 10, 2018
This book was released into a crowded field, as many immigrant and western-educated authors of diverse origin publish English-language stories about war in their home countries. Particularly good novels in this category include Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht; A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini; and A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam. Even the exact premise of this book – protagonist experiences conflict in her home country as a girl, immigrates to the U.S., and later returns with an adult’s perspective – is hardly unique; for that I recommend Nayomi Munaweera’s Island of a Thousand Mirrors, or for a non-fictional version, Zainab Salbi’s Between Two Worlds.

All of which is to say that while Girl at War is not a terrible book, it does little to distinguish itself either on its literary merits, or as compared to similar stories; it’s the poor man or woman’s version of the books listed above. But one of the wonderful things about books is that pricing does not depend on quality, so you need not settle for less.

This book is divided into four sections, alternating between two time periods. In the first, our protagonist, Ana, is a 10-year-old Croatian girl who experiences violence firsthand when the Yugoslav Civil War breaks out in 1991. In the second, Ana is a 20-year-old college student in New York, who appears to be suffering from untreated PTSD; she decides to return to her now-peaceful home country in a desperate attempt to deal with her memories. (Has she considered therapy? In one of several head-scratchers, neither she nor her trained foster parents ever think of this, despite her extensive trauma symptoms.)

This is a quick read: the plot moves rapidly from one scenario to the next, not in the sense that there's much excitement or buildup of tension, but by briefly sketching many scenes rather than lingering or zooming in on a few. And the writing is simple and easy to read. The downside is that nothing pulled me in; the story feels flat and recycled, more like an outline than a completed novel. The writing style is bland and the scenes fail to come alive. The same is true of the characters. Ana's trauma seems to be the beginning and end of her character; the only other thing we know of her is that she was considered a tomboy as a child, and that's a single fact, not a complex personality. Nor are the other characters any better; they fulfill specific roles in the plot rather than emerging as interesting individuals.

Overall, then, my reading experience was that of being told a story, rather than feeling transported to the setting and experiencing it firsthand. It was too hurried, too bland, too mass-produced to be memorable for me. That said, I harbor no active dislike for the book; it contains a decent portrayal of the lasting effects of trauma, and readers will learn a bit about the most recent war in the Balkans. Those whose emotions are more readily engaged will no doubt have a more meaningful experience with it than I did, as will those who prefer fiction written in a young-adult register. But lest you become exhausted with stories of civilians caught up in war, I'd recommend those books mentioned in the first paragraph of this review before this one.
Profile Image for Bill.
289 reviews92 followers
November 27, 2015

5.0 (brilliant shooting) STARS!

Updated November 27, 2015. I saw this photo attached to a recent article about the Syrian conflict. It reflects exactly my feelings and emotions about the Croatian girl in this story!

 photo 45e130e9-be29-45ab-81fe-07700f3aeab2_zps3pdpdk1d.jpg

Oh how I loved this book :)
“Damir taught me how to fieldstrip and reassemble an AK. Forward grip, gas chamber, cleaning rod, bolt (piston first), frame, magazine. “Function check!” It meant to cock the gun as a test, but anyone completing the check yelled it triumphantly, a battle cry preceding the first burst of gunfire. The fieldstrip was a protocol that never changed, and I found solace in the repetition.”

- At the age of ten Ana Juric was a child soldier, more accurately a child with a gun, but nothing like those African kids who were spoon fed narcotics until they were numb enough to kill for their warlord kidnappers. Ana and her fellow Safe Housers sniped at the Chetniks and JNA from the blown out windows. Ana didn’t follow orders, she did it to survive. Combat was not an option. It was something they did to live, to hold off the Serbian paramilitaries, to avoid a place in a mass grave. Firepower was the only determining factor in who would eat.

“In Croatia, life in wartime had meant a loss of control, war holding sway over every thought and movement, even while you slept. It did not allow for forgetting. But America’s war did not constrain me, it did not cut off my water or shrink my food supply. There was no threat of takeover with tanks and foot soldiers or cluster bombs, not here. What war meant in America was so incongruous with what happened in Croatia-what must be happening in Afghanistan-that it almost seemed a misuse of the word.”

-Ana is a 20 year old, third year college student at NYU studying literature and Sharon Stanfield has tracked her down. Sharon was the Blue Helmet with Yugo Peacekeeping who smuggled her out of Croatia to her foster family in the United States, reuniting Ana with her sister Rahela. The last time Ana saw her, Sharon was wearing combat boots and a flak jacket. Sanfield asked Ana to testify at the United Nations as part of her “Children in Combat” presentation. Ana agreed. Deep ,ugly psychological and emotional wounds Ana suffered during the Yugoslavian Civil Wars are opened once again, as if they never closed, just lurking under the surface, suppressed by years of misery and depression.

“I put my elbows on the counter to get the clerk’s attention. Mr. Petrovic knew me and knew what I wanted, but today his smile looked more like a smirk. “Do you want Serbian cigarettes or Croatian ones?” The way he stressed the two nationalities sounded unnatural. I heard people on the news talking about Serbs and Croatians this way because of the fighting in the villages. And I didn’t want to buy the wrong kind of cigarettes.”

-Ana turned ten years old in the last week of August. Zagreb was hot in the summer but the family’s usual trip to the Adriatic coast was not possible this year given the ethnic tensions. Ana was a tom boy, loved to play football and ran in the streets of Croatia’s capital city with her best friend Luka. This summer the city was tense. Milosevic was on TV talking about cleansing the land. What did that mean? Refugees were arriving from Vukovar where people were disappearing or dying in night time explosions. Hurrying to air raid shelters became a common, everyday occurrence for Ana and Luka. They competed to ride the bike in the shelter that powered the shelter’s electric generator. Just like kids they made a game of this new normal necessitated by civil war.

“The village was no longer a village-anything once made it deserving of the title, including residents, were long gone. Most of the buildings had been reduced to rubble, collapsed slabs of concrete. The few that were left standing were all the eerier for it; the glass was blown out, but nothing was boarded up, leaving hollow sockets where the windows had been…down the street I could see a large stone house painted black …when we got close enough, I could see that the building hadn’t been painted at all; it was black with soot, the windows gone and the shutters burned off. “Chetnik headquarters,’ I said. “They raped so many women here.” Luka stuck his hands in his pockets, looking squeamish. “I was too little,” I said. “And I had a gun.”

-Ana never told anyone about her experiences in the Homeland War, known to Croats as the Greater-Serbian aggression, during the decade she lived with her foster parents. She kept her past life a secret. She massaged and molded the truth about her past life in Croatia so she could fit into her new American life. It worked well for her until the towers came down in September. She held inside and suppressed all her feelings of anger, hate, frustration, guilt, rage and fear behind walls of withdrawal, isolation, solitude and anxiety. The terror attack on NYC collapsed her carefully constructed emotional walls just like the towers and deep down inside she knew she had to go back to Croatia, to her old apartment building in Zagreb, to the Safe House and the forest where it all began for her, to confirm that Luka was still alive, to come to terms with her tumultuous past.

What an extraordinarily powerful story! Ana Juric, a regular kid growing up in Zagreb, Croatia is forced to face the horrors of civil war and the savagery of ethnic cleansing. Ten year old Ana is enjoying the adventures of childhood, playing football with her friends and riding her bike in the city and hanging out at the Trg. She couldn’t understand why the Yugoslav National Army wanted to attack Croatia which was full of Yugoslavian people. It didn’t make any sense to her.

The harsh, cold reality of ethnic hatred turns the young Ana Juric instantly into a war hardened adult on the long road from Sarajevo back to Zagreb. The bracelet of scars left by the barbed wire wrapped around her wrists is a constant reminder of that fateful afternoon when the drunken soldiers marched her and her parents into the forest.

The story is broken out into four sections, all seamlessly weaving together very distinct parts of Ana’s young life - a young girl growing up in Zagreb; a civil war fueled by ethnic hatred that sucks her in and shatters her family; her new life growing up with a caring foster family in the suburbs of Philadelphia, coping with her pain, anxiety and depression; her trip during summer break at NYU back to Croatia to come to terms with events of her own Stribor’s Forest. Thankfully the author excludes explicit and graphic descriptions of wartime violence but nonetheless she skillfully evokes painful awareness of the horrors of ethnic cleansing.

One of my co-workers, who at the age of eight fled the Bosnia War with his family and emigrated to the United States, graciously answered my questions about the Yugoslav Wars and corroborated aspects of the story I didn’t understand. He knew of the dreaded Chetniks. He told me stories of men and fighting age boys separated from their families at Serbian checkpoints. He confirmed the sad tale of rape. Published reports indicate between 20,000 and 50,000 Bosnian women were raped by Chetnik paramilitaries during the war.

This is a highly emotional read, an educational read, a story of love and hate and coming to an understanding, and maybe even peace, with a painful past. I highly recommend it!

 photo Girl at war status 3_zpsp9g0iae1.jpg
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,005 reviews36k followers
April 1, 2021
Ebook, (own) ....
along with the library/overdrive audiobook...read by Julia Whelan.
It was very easy to follow this story in audiobook format: effortless, in fact.
The audiobook, itself is 7 hours and 32 minutes.

I’ve been meaning to read this book since it was first released. I had read other reviews - so I had a pretty good idea what I was diving into.
I have *Connie* to thank for the inspiration to finally take my own turn and read this book!!!

There are already hundreds of reviews. I don’t need to explained the content.

For me, having always been attracted to the eye-catching book cover, the storytelling/narrating prose—was better then I expected.
My local friend, Stuart Rojstaczer, (author of “The Mathematician Shiva”), told me ....”it wasn’t for him”....so....
I knew his influence was hanging in the back of my mind.
But I enjoyed it.

The heartbeat is our protagonist: Ana Juric, who was just a child at the start of this historical tale of the 1991-92....The Croatian War of Independence/coming of age....and her move to America.
Following Ana’s journey while gaining more understanding about the Yogoslav army - the Sarajevo agreement- the fighting issues- the lovely country setting of Croatian itself - and the American immigrant ‘emptiness’ experience (understandable)....was all ‘felt’.

Children growing up in the middle of havoc-literally a battlefield-are at major risks of developing depression, and even damage to their brains.
It’s staggering how many children have grown up in a war zone.
Unfortunately... these things happened to Ana too, (damage from war)

Through the storytelling...a normal girl (who even wished to marry her best friend at age 10 > because HE WAS HER BEST FRIEND....was lovable, charming, adorably tomboyish - and ‘had’ to become brave and grow up faster than any child should have to.
Ana didn’t know yet...about kissing, and more mature adult love....but that was what so sweet ....Ana’s young innocence.

Innocence only lasts so long. We are given a eye view look at how Ana copes as an adult. Not easy.... that was for sure....
her path to healing ....was encouraging.
The author’s psychological perceptiveness was quite astute and discerning.

My only regret...I wish I had read this six years - because I would have enjoyed being part of community discussions.

Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,194 reviews9,459 followers
August 30, 2015
Many years ago me and a friend hitchhiked through the whole of Yugoslavia, from Ljubljana all the way down the coast though Split and Dubrovnik – what a beautiful road it was, with the grand mountains on the left and the sudden chasmic drop on the right down to the fishing villages at the edge of the Adriatic, and the islands out in the sea. We hit the border with Albania and had to go up into the mountains – in those days Albania did not look kindly on men with long hair and bell bottom jeans. (We had the hair not the jeans.) So we were driving upwards through those endless hairpin bends through a strange moonscape until we got to the plains on the top and on to Skopje and the Greek border. Then a few weeks later we came back through the middle, and landed at some point in Zagreb, where this novel begins. It was a pretty ordinary Communist town at that point.

A few years after our hitchhiking spree the whole place was a war zone. It was hard to imagine. Girl at War puts us right in the middle, through the eyes of ten year old Ana Jurić. Which is the strength and also the weakness of this novel. This whole war was a chaotic mess. If even the adults struggled to figure out who was doing what to who, you’re not going to get any big picture from Ana. When the 21 year old version of Ana returns to Croatia to figure out some crucial events, it’s her life she’s naturally obsessed with, not any great political questions. Which leaves this reader frustrated, and ordering some heavyweight history books immediately. I remember all these horrors on the tv news at the time. I had no idea what was happening then and I still don’t. It’s disgraceful.

Very deliberately Sara Novic uses a plain pared-down narration and we have to infer the terrific trauma inflicted on her characters. In fact we might feel ourselves getting as irritated by the clammed-up incommunicability of Ana as her second family and boyfriend do. I thought this was very true. Amidst the repressed angst, she also leaves herself room for a few spot-on observations of American vs European attitudes :

As a child I had taken summers for granted – a month’s vacation time was the country’s standard… Now I considered how insane a month off would sound to an American. Jack could barely get a week away from the firm where he worked, and even then he was constantly hassled by phone calls from needy clients.

Whether she is still Croatian or is now American is a major issue for the 21 year old Ana.

The other thing which is very good here is that hideous heightened arbitrariness of life in wartime. Your family needs to take the baby to a hospital, so you go, and on the way back, without warning, some unofficial vigilante brigade had in the meantime cut down a tree and blocked the road, and so you have to stop, and then you’re at their mercy, and they have no mercy. Just like that. Whereas your neighbours, they didn’t have to go to the hospital, so no roadblock for them.

A solid 3.5 which will be a 4 for some readers.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,603 reviews2,575 followers
July 8, 2015
This pitch-perfect debut novel is an inside look at the Yugoslavian Civil War and its aftermath, from the perspective of a young girl caught up in the fighting. The careful structure is what keeps it from becoming just another ordinary, chronological war story. The recreation of a child’s perspective on the horrors of war is stunning. In fact, I can barely think of a negative thing to say about this concise novel. It strikes a perfect balance between past and present, tragic and hopeful.

(Non-subscribers can read an excerpt of my full review at BookBrowse.)
Profile Image for Britany.
966 reviews418 followers
September 8, 2018
This one has been on my to read list for such a long time, and then BookRiot recommended it in anticipation for my trip to the Balkans, perfect excuse to finally read this one.

Ana Juric is residing in Zagreb (former Yugoslavia) in the 1990's when the wars broke out effectively breaking up Yugoslavia and changing the landscape of the Balkans forevermore. Ana is ten years old, food is scarce and her baby sister is sick. Her family decides to send baby Rahela to America for help through MediMission while continuing to struggle in their home country. Fighting against both the JNA and the Cetniks all taking violent stands against one another with civilians constantly getting caught in the crossfire.

The storyline alternates between 10 year old Ana and 20 year old Ana as she navigates life in America as a college student. She finally decides to confront her past and the turmoil that happened in her homeland.

I couldn't read this novel fast enough. I didn't understand or know very much about this traumatic history of the Balkans and what these countries went through to survive. This time in history was never taught in school and barely made headlines in our own country. I had to find out what happened to Ana, her family, and her culture. My heart broke for all the baggage one girl had to carry around and how she coped with the pressure and horrific memories was terrifying. The writing was passionate and strong and I look forward to reading more by this author. I'm interested in learning more about this part of the world and if you have any suggestions, please send them my way.
Profile Image for Tania.
1,200 reviews269 followers
September 7, 2015
they couldn't fathom that such a dangerous place could still harbour all the feelings of home.

I can't believe this was historical fiction and not a memoir, it felt so real. I also can't believe the author is only 26. This is my favorite writing - understated, with no melodrama, almost a bit removed from reality. The first part of the book introduces us to Ana as a child in Yugoslavia - the author does an amazing job of showing us how slowly war creeps into your life, and then she follows it up with one of the most unexpected and shocking scenes I've ever read. Girl at War also focuses on Ana trying to fit into the American culture, but never really feeling like she belongs anywhere. How difficult it must be to grieve for everything and everyone you've ever known in a country where no-one was there, or can understand. This is a book not only about a girl in a war, but about a girl at war with herself and her world, trying to make peace with her past and her present. ...someone who preferred his own life, even with its sorrows, over all the ease and happiness in the world.
Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,768 reviews4,237 followers
March 11, 2016
I've been a member of Goodreads since August 2007: almost seven years. Strangely, I still can't quite shake the sense of it being a relatively new addition to my internet life: it was, for me, pre-Twitter and Instagram, but post-LiveJournal and my large back catalogue of personal websites. It's also odd to look back on my early reviews, which now feel like they were written by a much more childlike version of myself, as if pulled from a teenage diary, even though I was already in my twenties when I joined the site. Anyway, during that time, I've written - according to the review count on my profile - 766 reviews. The number isn't quite accurate, as a significant portion of those are very brief notes; but even if half or two-thirds of them are a few sentences, that leaves hundreds of longer reviews.

I've recently started to feel that it's hard to write a truly original review, to avoid plagiarising myself or paraphrasing others. I've become more aware of phrases and words I use over and over again, and the more I use them, the more flimsy and insufficient they seem - but there are only so many synonyms available and only so many ways of rephrasing the same things. Some books jolt me out of this and make me say something different because they're so good (or so bad), but in among those are lots of books I enjoy in a generic, ordinary way, that I'm not really inclined to criticise but don't expect to stay with me after I turn the last page.

So Girl at War is another addition to a long list of books I really liked and yet don't have anything new to say about. It's good, and I think it might gain a kind of slow-burn popularity, might be nominated for a couple of awards and is the sort of thing that will be included in the Waterstones Book Club selections when it's published in paperback. But I doubt I will remember the story in detail.

Narrator Ana is ten years old when war breaks out in Yugoslavia. Her family is Croatian, and as the fighting continues, her life and relationships with those around her are altered further and further, at the same time as war is assimilated into her daily life - Ana continues to ride around the city of Zagreb with her best friend Luka; they play war games on the structures used to make roadblocks. Things become more serious for Ana's family when her baby sister, Rahela, develops a mysterious illness and must be taken across the border into Slovenia to receive treatment. Told in four parts, the story flips between this setting and Ana ten years later - a student living in New York. At the beginning of this second narrative, she is preparing to give a speech at the UN about her experiences and eventual flight from Croatia. Naturally, this dredges up painful memories, and she is ultimately compelled to go back to the country of her birth to confront the ghosts of her past.

Here are some unoriginal things I could say about Girl at War:
- Ana is a fairly likeable and interesting character, but the narrative never gets into her head enough for her story to be truly emotive, despite the all the hardships she faces.
- An element of romance is used cleverly... or is a cop-out (it gives the book's audience a romantic subplot to get emotionally attached to but never really resolves it and therefore avoids any risk of the story being defined as a romantic one).
- The settings are done well, and bring Zagreb in particular to life. One of the strongest aspects of the settings is the way Nović highlights how alien Ana's way of life is when compared with what the reader is likely to have experienced, while frequently reminding us that these conflicts are not some distant, ancient memory but actually took place very recently.
- The author also does a good job of showing how, in a country at war, the dangers and horrors of war are often incorporated into everyday life with greater ease than those who have never experienced it might imagine, especially by children. The downside of this is that the stakes often don't feel as high as they should.
- It's a fast and easy read and has that feeling of being light but not trashy.
- There's very little about this I didn't enjoy, but I'll be surprised if I remember any of it in a few months' time.

I enjoyed this, but I can't quite get it up for it in the same way that other readers apparently could. My Goodreads and Feedly feeds have been full of ecstatically enthusiastic responses since it was published, and I have to say that while I agree it's good, I didn't find it powerful. Still very much recommended, though, even if only because it seems statistically likely you'll have a better time with it than I did.
Profile Image for Kaora.
568 reviews281 followers
December 4, 2015
As a side effect of modern warfare, we had the peculiar privilege of watching the destruction of our country on television.

I found this book after it was nominated for two categories in the Goodreads Choice Awards - Debut Author and Fiction. Prior to that I had not heard of it.

It quickly sucked me in, with the very real portrayal of war through a child's eyes. It jumps between two time periods. Her as a young girl in Croatia, and later in her twenties as a college student in New York.

The writing was great, with vivid characters that broke your heart.

I just wish there was more resolution with this book. It is a pretty short book, but it ended rather abruptly leaving me with more questions. However, I'm impressed enough to see what else this author will write.
Profile Image for João Carlos.
646 reviews273 followers
May 28, 2017

”Rapariga em Guerra” é o primeiro romance de Sara Nović (n. 1987), uma estreia verdadeiramente auspiciosa, deixando antever o despontar de uma prometedora escritora.
Em 1991 as notícias do início de um conflito armado – na Jugoslávia - em plena Europa deixaram-me perplexo e horrorizado, quer pela sua génese quer pela sua violência. Realisticamente a Jugoslávia como país agrupava um conjunto de regiões e etnias, com diferentes credos religiosos, que formavam uma unidade de génese artificial, assente na repressão política e social, dominada por dirigentes comunistas ditatoriais, com uma economia que estava a entrar em colapso. O desfecho da “Guerra da Balcãs” foi catastrófico, cerca de cento e quarenta mil mortos, milhões de pessoas desalojadas, execução sistemática de massacres étnicos, os denominados crimes de guerra, sempre inexplicáveis e hediondos; e no final foram criados seis países: Eslovénia, Croácia, Bósnia e Herzegovina, Macedónia, Montenegro e Sérvia e duas províncias autónomas: Kosovo e Vojvodina.

Sara Nović inicia o seu romance em 1991 em Zagreb, fazendo logo uma primeira constatação: “A guerra em Zagreb começou por causa de um maço de cigarros. Já existia alguma tensão, ouviam-se rumores de distúrbios noutras cidades, sussurrados na minha presença, mas nada de explosões, nada declarado.” - a Ana Jurić, é uma menina de dez anos, muito inteligente, que vive numa família feliz em Zagreb, num pequeno apartamento com os seus pais e a sua irmã mais nova Rahela, com um espírito desenvolto e espontâneo. O seu dia-a-dia é repentinamente alterado por uma guerra incompreensível, com os vizinhos – de outras etnias e origens – a desconfiarem uns dos outros e a terem comportamentos ininteligíveis. Ana Jurić é envolvida de uma forma trágica e dramática na guerra…
Em 2001, dez anos mais tarde, encontramos Ana Jurić em Nova Iorque, como estudante universitária em Manhattan e como sobrevivente da Guerra Civil Jugoslava, participando, igualmente, em conferências na ONU sobre o conflito armado – incapaz de separar a história do seu país da sua história individual.
A escrita de Sara Nović domina a narrativa admiravelmente e artisticamente, coordenando de uma forma invulgar o tempo e o espaço – de 1991 a 2001, da Croácia para os Estados Unidos da América e vice-versa, revelando o peso da guerra e das memórias de uma menina que cresceu sob a implacabilidade da fatalidade e do infortúnio, mas que como autêntica lutadora e com uma obstinada coragem, pretende conhecer-se a si própria, sem medo de enfrentar o passado, revivendo os seus traumas e as suas memórias; igualmente, alguns segredos do seu passado que não pretende revelar aos seus amigos no presente.
”Rapariga em Guerra” é um excelente romance, uma notável primeira obra, que perdurará na minha memória.
”Rapariga em Guerra” é um romance que aconselho sem reservas…
Profile Image for Sharon.
248 reviews101 followers
November 27, 2017
This is compellingly readable, more so the first half, which is why I ended up dropping the rating a bit, and sheds light on the Yugoslavian war, a war I knew very little about.

There was something about the first half of Ana’s story that felt very real and authentic; the narration reminded me of war through a child’s eyes, similar to one of my all-time favorite memoirs, The Girl With the White Flag, about a young girl trying to survive in wartime Okinawa.

As Ana ages, the style and narration become more distant, removed, and wooden. I realize this may have been deliberate given all that she experienced, but it didn’t translate well on the pages; it almost felt like first-time author Sara Novic ran out of steam.

Still, Novic (who is deaf; there is an interview at the end about being a hearing-impaired author which was very interesting) has undeniable talent. She doesn’t shy away from September 11, and how that attack, through Ana’s eyes, was so different from what she experienced in The Serbo-Croatian War; Ana works through feelings of anger, pretty much saying Americans had the luxury of distancing themselves as much as they wanted to from our war on terror. Wrong or right, Ana’s feelings as she processes our war in relation to hers were some of the most interesting—and ballsy—passages in the novel.

A word on the ending (but still spoiler-free): I normally approve of something more open-ended or unresolved. This one felt abrupt and ultimately unsatisfying to me.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews125k followers
May 12, 2015
I’m really starting to enjoy historical fiction. I’ve not read much in the genre, but every time I do, it makes me want to go research the time period in question. Nović’s debut novel is about a girl living in Croatia at the tender age of 10 when the Yugoslavian Civil War breaks out. The novel fast-forwards to her college years in America, where the tragedies of her youth still haunt her budding adulthood. She decides to return to Croatia for closure. Nović manages to balance the darkness of war with breaths of hope and joy. This is really an astounding book for a debut author. — Chris Arnone

from The Best Books We Read in April: http://bookriot.com/2015/05/01/riot-r...
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,338 reviews696 followers
June 22, 2015
GIRL AT WAR is a memorable novel about a survivor of the Croatian-Bosnian civil war. As an American, I saw news clips and footage of this horrific war while safe in suburbia. Sara Novic brings this war to heartbreaking reality with her choice of protagonist.

Ana Juric is a 10-year-old girl when the Yugoslavian civil war breaks out. Told from the innocent and inquisitive nature of Ana, the reader learns how frightening and distressing life was at that time. Novic uses her protagonist well. The sense of changing safety of a 10-year-old girl, along with the peculiar change in adult behavior has the reader on edge. The reader feels sadden by the loss of innocence that such civil unrest breeds.

The story jumps from 10-year-old Ana to College age Ana who is now safely ensconced at NYU with adoptive parents living in New Jersey. Physically she’s safe, but emotionally she still holds scars of the war. She realizes she needs to return to Croatia to heal. The reader understands her need for the journey and readily takes it with her.

What makes the story so amazing is that it’s a realistic account of the nightmare of war, told from an innocent perspective. It’s memorizing and fascinating while disturbing and shocking. Because it was a war a continent away, it’s easy to forget what happened. Children learn that the countries of the world have changed, but few understand how, why, and at what cost the map changed. War is ugly and Novic does an astounding job of bringing that conflict to light. I highly recommend it for the reader who enjoys historical fiction and wants to learn a bit more of the Yugoslavian civil war.
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews292 followers
March 4, 2016
Croatia, the War of Independence (1991-1995) and the aftermath as seen through the eyes of a young girl. This was maybe a three and a half star book for me. I felt oddly disengaged when I should have been shocked, horrified, saddened, haunted.

Lots of people loved this book and one of the top reviewers, Karen, suggests that the detached tone is a literary device. That may well be the case and if so it's a clever approach to portraying one possible manifestation of PTSD.

This is Sara Nović's first novel and she is clearly a promising young writer. Her prose style is smooth, easy to read, interesting, and I learned a fair bit about Croatia and the wars that tore the Balkans apart in the 1990's. But I did not feel as if I had lived through it. That to me is the standard by which war literature should be judged; Girl at War doesn't quite come up to the mark.

Content Rating PG for war themes.
112 reviews90 followers
May 10, 2017
به طور خلاصه کتاب درباره تجزیه یوگسلاوی است. «آنا» دختری از خانواده ای کروات قهرمان کتابه که کودکیش در جنگ بین صرب ها و کروات ها و.... بوده. روایت آنا از زندگی آرومش شروع می شه تا به جنگ و نجات معجزه آساش از دست صرب ها و در نهایت رسیدنش به آمریکا می رسه. تو این کتاب از توصیفات طولانی و بی جا خبری نیست و حتی میشه گفت نویسنده از بخشهایی با عجله عبور کرده. مثل زمانی که خاطرات جنگ رو برای «برایان» تعریف می کنه و این خودش حس آنا رو که نمیخواد راجع به گذشته حرف بزنه رو بیشتر القا میکنه. کشش داستان خوبه اما چیزی که به نظرم با کلیت کتاب همخوانی نداشت پایانش بود. به نظرم داستان یک باره تموم شده . طوری که پرونده کتاب تو ذهنم بسته نشد.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,660 reviews26 followers
June 18, 2015
This was a 4.5 star read for me. Novic creates a compelling character, Ana Juric, a young Croatian. The novel begins in the early 1990's in Zagreb, Croatia, at the beginning of the Balkan war(s). The people of Zagreb, as others who live through wars, aren't aware of the coming violence. Ana, at age 10, is even more naive, not understanding when she goes on an errand to buy cigarettes for a relative, why she is asked whether she wants Croatian or Serbian cigarettes. In the midst of encroaching war, Ana's toddler sister, Rahela, is seriously ill. This situation changes Ana's life.

Fast forward ten years and Ana is a college student in NYC. Ana has secrets which she guards carefully. Yet occasionally, her Croatian origins are detected by others. This was very believable to me. I recall once in the Boston subway, a woman approached the friend I was with and asked if her family was from a particular village in eastern Poland. It turned out she was right, and she told my friend she knew immediately by looking at her. I have myself noticed subtle, almost indetectible, speech characteristics (choice of words, accent etc.) and correctly determined where the speaker had grown up. Those few who recognized Ana as Croatian likely picked up on small things like these.

Throughout the novel, the Croatian language represents being Croatian. We learn that Croatian, Serbian, and other languages of the region are not mutually unintelligible. In fact, they share Serbo-Croatian roots. Some would call them dialects, while others (I am one) consider them languages. I am careful not to say they are mutually intelligible, because ethnic divisions can prevent this. Language, culture and identity are tightly interwoven; so much so that humans often strive to mark their differences through language. As a linguist (of sorts), the use of Croatian phrases and references throughout, were very unifying and significant to the story.

Ana is an extraordinarily brave girl and later young woman. This was a hard-to-put down novel for me. It has been praised as a first novel, but I am not evaluating it as such, but simply as a novel. The author, interestingly, is deaf. She became deaf gradually, and now uses American Sign Language. This article from The Guardian was sent me by a GR friend:
Profile Image for JanB .
1,144 reviews2,508 followers
March 28, 2017
I'm bumping this because it is a kindle deal right now for $1.99 until 4/8. I read it two years ago and highly recommend!

4.5 stars. This book gave me a window into a war I (embarrassingly) knew little about, and still find somewhat confusing. Knowing this is a part of our recent past made it even more poignant. In this novel, the story of the Bosnian War in the early 90s is told through the eyes of 10 year old Ana, who is living in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia when war breaks out. Without going into spoiler territory, suffice it to say that a pivotal event happens that is devastating and packs quite an emotional punch.

Fast forward 10 years, and Ana is living in the U.S. as a young college student with memories of her past haunting her. She tries to repress them and has a false narrative to explain her past. Through flashbacks, the full picture of what Ana endured emerges. She finds herself unable to function well in school, or fully assimilate into American life. The term isn't used, but clearly she suffers from PTSD. Her journey leads her back to Zagreb in a search for answers and to make peace with her past. The story was told with sensitivity and the ending was perfect and satisfying.

It’s rare that I find a book narrated by a child/teenager so satisfying. Switching time periods between past and present was done very well and was necessary for the story as a whole. The writing is beautiful and didn’t rely on over-sentimentality to tell the story. I found it difficult to put down. This is a great debut novel and I look forward to reading more by this author.

Recommended for everyone. This would make an excellent book group choice.
Profile Image for Kristin.
325 reviews
February 9, 2017

"Older men declare war. But it is the youth that must fight and die. ~Herbert Hoover"

I absolutely loved this. So much so that I am at a loss for words to accurately express the beauty of this novel and how Sara Nović's prose has resonated with me. Easily the best debut novel I have ever read.

Girl at War follows the life of Ana Jurić and her experiences during and after the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995). Told from both her ten and twenty-year-old perspectives, we gain insight into her simple, happy childhood and how war drastically changed everything she knew overnight.

“The realization that my parents, too, felt pain and fear frightened me more than any strangers could.”

In its own way, every war is the same, and as Americans, I think many of us are too ignorant to see how sheltered we really are from it. In 1991, I was ten-years-old as well and traveled to Europe to visit family. I can tell you that I vaguely had an idea that there was a war going on somewhere in the world, but I had no idea where it was. To think that at this time, children the same age as I was, a measily hour and a half away from where I was, were fighting for their lives, is almost incomprehensible to me.

War brings out the gruesome in people and the crimes against humanity never cease to amaze me. The Holocaust is always in the forefront when people think of war crimes, but I am not sure that any war is any better. Ana’s story supports that I think. It shows us that regardless of what country you're in, war can take everything from you, your home, your family, and even parts of your soul.

“The girls in the picture were strangers, but they could have just as easily been me. Caught in that void between childhood and puberty, skin still smooth but limbs gawky from growth spurts. Each held a Kalashnikov across her chest. The taller girl had her other arm over the shorter one's shoulder; they might have been sisters. Both gave half smiles to the camera, as if they remembered from another time that one was supposed to smile in photographs.”

Some complain of Nović’s detached tone, I didn't feel this at all. Ana’s pain, fear and loneliness were palpable and I felt as if I understood her. Nović’s words touched me in ways I cannot explain and portrayed how war can shape an individual into who they are. Not a new topic by any means, but Nović captured it all so beautifully.

“Their musings about how and why people stayed in a country under such terrible conditions were what I hated most. I knew it was ignorance, not insight that prompted these questions. they asked because they hadn't smelled the air raid smoke or the scent of singed flesh on their own balconies; they couldn't fathom that such a dangerous place could still harbor all the feelings of home.”

My only complaint was the abrupt, but inevitable ending. I didn't want for it to end and I want to know more.
Profile Image for Emma.
974 reviews975 followers
March 21, 2016
Told through the voice of Ana, a child at the outbreak of war, the book has a seemingly light touch. It gives no easy answers, no real resolutions. Novic has created a distance between Ana and her story, in both time and space, allowing her descriptions of events to be told in a rather detached tone. This adds tot he separation she has tried to create between her past and present, one which increasingly, she is unable to maintain. The ways in which conflict and death influence her life and her character provide the basis for the plot, focused through her memories of childhood. Her thoughts are reflected through youthful experience, even in the parts of the book in which Ana is older, and these two strands of war and childhood are intertwined in her memory to such an extent that any remembrance is difficult. This feeds into the larger issue she has faced since that time: who am i now? She's a girl, but a tomboy. She's a Croat, but what does that mean? How does who you are change according to place, time, audience?

For some, the focus on personal experience, determined by the kinds of thoughts held by a child, may be frustrating, they may feel that the meat has been left out of the story. For me, the novel acts as an invitation, a suggestion that I should be the one to find out more, read further, make my own mind up. I did my undergraduate degree at the School of Slavonic and Eastern European Studies in London. I read lots of books on this period: sweeping histories, political commentaries, reportage, personal memoirs. There is a broad spectrum of evidence and opinion right there for everyone to see, read, and hear. As Ana says 'As a side effect of modern warfare, we had the peculiar privilege of watching the destruction of our country on television'. [location 343] Yet, this conflict rarely forms the basis for popular fiction, and i'm glad Novic has brought some attention to it. Not only does it have real significance to modern European history in its own right, so much of what is happening in Syria now seems to be a reflection, or outright repetition, of the terror that occurred during the breakup of Yugoslavia. Indeed, one of my favourite journalists, Janine Di Giovanni, whose powerful book Madness Visible: A Memoir of War provided insight into the brutality of the period, has just released The Morning They Came For Us: Dispatches From Syria. It’s saddening to see how humanity repeatedly throws itself into savagery.

Many thanks to Sara Novic, Little, Brown Book Group UK, and Netgalley for this copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,690 reviews451 followers
March 23, 2021
"Their musings about how and why people stayed in a country under such terrible conditions were what I hated most. I knew it was ignorance, not insight, that prompted these questions. They asked because they hadn't smelled the air raid smoke or the scent of singed flesh on their own balconies; they couldn't fathom that such a dangerous place could still harbor all the feelings of home."

Ana Juric was a carefree ten-year-old tomboy who enjoyed playing with her best friend Luca in 1991 when the civil war started in Yugoslavia. Ethnic differences and the acquisition of power fueled the civil war. Ana's family lived in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. Her sister had serious medical problems so her family traveled to Bosnia for treatment. On the return trip, they encountered a roadblock manned by Serbian soldiers, and tragedy followed.

The story then moves forward ten years to Ana living in New York City as a university student. She's still afraid to sleep since she wakes up screaming, haunted by her experiences during the war. She decides to go back to Croatia to visit Luca, make sense of her past, and find her home in the world. The story moves back and forth in time narrating the last ten years of Ana's life.

"Girl at War" shows Ana's happy world falling apart when she encounters the trauma and loss of war. The brave young girl had kept her experiences locked up inside her, creating a distance between everyone she meets. It's a thought-provoking look at what it means to be a survivor, and what makes a home.
Profile Image for Maryam.
696 reviews111 followers
October 30, 2017
This is a sad story; is there even a story of war which is not sad? Ana whose parents had been killed in front of her is now a college student in NY. After presenting in UN about civil war in Croatia she decides to go back home again....
Profile Image for Radwa Abdelbasset.
352 reviews486 followers
July 22, 2018
انتهت بغتةً كما بدأت بغتة.
في حالةٍ من الدهشة تركتني تلك الرواية، في العادة الروايات التي تتحدثُ عن الحروب تكون مُثقلة بالموت والدماء وتسرد لك ضحايا الحرب؛ لكن أن تُسرَد النفس المُشوهة بالحرب بتلك الطريقة الهادئة والمؤلمة في آنٍ واحد أراها عبقرية؛ حتى السرد الذي شعرت أنه فقد تماسكه في المرحلة الثانية من عُمر " آنا" سُرعان ماشعرت أنه تَعَمُد من الكاتبة للفصل بين الحالتين، والحياة المختلفة التي عادت مرةً أخرى من خلال سياق الأحداث.

هناك بعض المشاهد التي مرت كانت العَبرات تخونني وتنسكب على وجهي وأنا أشعر بخفقاتها الصغيرة وخوفها وحيرتها.

قاتل الله الحروب، والعقول المُبهمة التي تسعى إلى اللاشئ..

والإنسان مخلوقٌ وحشي أكثر من كائنات أخرى كثيرة تعيش حولنا ونظنُ أنَّها مُفترسة؛ أما عن الأبرياء الذين رحلوا في نيران الحرب لكم منّا كل السلام واسألُ الله أن يتغمد الأجساد التي رحلت بالرحمة، ولايُذيقنا شتات المعارك، ويخلصنا من الطغاة ويُنجينا من حروبنا الصغيرة والكبيرة.
Profile Image for RitaSkeeter.
693 reviews
June 18, 2017
I was young, but I remember hearing about the Yugoslav wars on the news. I particularly remember Kosovo, both because I was a little older, and because my state hosted a number of Kosovar humanitarian arrivals for a period during the war. I remember the community distress when the refugees were returned to Kosovo, some against their will, when their visas expired. I'm ashamed to say though that I really don't understand the wars; what I know would fit on a fingernail. I Googled before and whilst reading this book and I'm still confused. If anyone can recommend a 'Yugoslav Wars for Dummies', I'm all ears.

I'm about to become all incongruent here. Usually I whine and stamp my feet about info dumping in books, but geez, I desperately needed it here. Desperately. Surely I'm not the only person out there with limited understanding of the Yugoslav wars? I waited and waited for the author to throw me a bone, but it never came. The closest I got was in the first section of the book where the author implies 'Croat good, Serb bad'. Who knows, maybe it was Croat good, Serb bad, but I'm not going to take the author's word alone on that. It's interesting that later in the novel was the quote ...but I knew in the end the guilt of one side did not prove the innocence of the other. I agree with the statement wholeheartedly, but I didn't feel it was truly reflected in the pages of the book.

There's a lot of very politely phrased anger in this novel. Anger at the UN for their lack of action, anger at journalists, anger at the American response to 9/11 - What war meant in America was so incongruous with what had happened in Croatia - what must be happening in Afghanistan - that it almost seemed a misuse of the word. I was desperate for some passion, some vitality to break through in this book, but it was kept submerged. In doing so, despite the occasional pointed remark, the book was very bland in tone. In many ways, this felt to be a quite American book. The way it is written, the phrasing, it was American.

I've rambled a lot, and haven't really said anything much. That's because I'm confused by the book. Not just through my lack of understanding of the historical and cultural issues, but also because I'm not sure what the book was trying to achieve. Is it a book about a child experiencing a modern war? Is it about the difficulties integrating into western society? Is it about the lasting impact of serious trauma and how many, whilst well intentioned, lack the skills and knowledge to create healing environments? Is it about the difficulties experienced when no longer belonging to your country of origin but not really belonging in your 'new' home either? It could be all of those things; or at least it could be if the author had created a dialogue with a narrowed field of focus that allowed us time to engage with the book and explore ideas. Instead the author pushes us pillar to post to get through everything and as a result allows us to experience nothing.

Brace yourselves because here I go on my usual rant: I want books that make me feel, and make me think - preferably in that order. Through books I want to walk in someone else's shoes. I want to gain understanding of differing cultures and lifestyles, I want to have my thinking about things challenges and broadened. This book holds us at a distance. I've mentioned that it doesn't shed any further light or insights on this period. It also doesn't allow us to get to know the characters, to empathise with them, to experience what they have seen. If I were giving the benefit of the doubt I'd suggest the novel's structure is reflecting that Ana herself doesn't allow herself to get close to anyone, that she holds herself aloof and removed. If the book had a more literary flavour, I might give the benefit in those terms, but it's not. My experience of this book was that it was confused and it lacked focus.

This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2015. I was so interested by it I even forked out the $15 the Kindle store were charging when the library took too long to get it in. Sadly the book is not what I hoped. I look at that average rating though and see I am much in the minority. This book clearly has more meaning and has greater connection with others than me. It might be the same for you. If you're unsure, download a sample and have a read. The early chapters provide a good indicator of the writing style so you've only time to lose.
Profile Image for Jessica J..
1,020 reviews1,960 followers
February 6, 2017
There is a moment in the middle of this story when the protagonist is in college, ten years removed from the tragic events of her childhood, in which she remarks that she quickly learned to stop telling people what happened to her because she finds that they are either ignorant of the historical events entirely or so far removed from the events that the discussion quickly becomes awkward and uncomfortable.

That was one of many, many significant moments for me reading this book, because I realized just how little I knew about the historical events that frame this novel – chiefly the Yugoslavian wars and genocide of the early to mid ‘90s. If I met Ana in real-life, I wouldn't know what to say to her either.

Our protagonist, Ana, is ten when war breaks out in Yugoslavia. For some time, it feels distant from her home in Zagreb, what would eventually become the capital of Croatia, but fear gradually begins to build as she is introduced to the concepts of bomb shelters and refugees. Then the war becomes all-too real and Ana’s life is drastically changed forever.

We pick up the story ten years later, when Ana is a junior at Columbia University who has successfully kept the horrors of her childhood hidden from almost everyone in her life. Without anyone who can genuinely understand what she’s gone through, she’s squelched it down and pushed it to the back of consciousness so that she can fit in and get by without much notice. But when faced with reminders of that horror, Ana realizes that she needs to do something to find some sort of closure and makes the difficult decision to travel back to Croatia for the first time in a decade.

This book is heartbreaking on so many levels. The horrors of war through the eyes of a young child are devastating enough, but the isolation and denial that Ana struggles with ten years later are quietly heartbreaking in their own right. The third part of the book peels back the layers even more, showing us the route that Ana took from Zagreb to New York while she retraces the steps for herself as an adult. It’s a journey that compounds Ana’s trauma and loneliness. The war robbed her of many, many things but it seems that the one piece that was never fully addressed was how the war robbed her of her identity. She had to become someone else in order to get through; once she got through, she found she had to become yet another person in order to find some normalcy. And no matter how much love she is offered by those around her, she remains very much alone in her memories because no one else can truly understand what she’s been too young to process.

The details – both the descriptions of terrible events and the psychological explorations – feel so real that it’s sometimes hard to believe that this isn’t based on Sara Novic’s own experiences. Her author bio mentions that she has lived in Croatia, so perhaps some firsthand knowledge has crept into the narrative, but Novic would have been a toddler when the book’s events occurred in 1991 so it seems unlikely that the story is truly autobiographical. Either way, the writing is lovely, the plotting is thoughtful, the characterization is powerful. It’s hard to feel like I can do this book justice. It kept me up at night. It's been a long time since I felt so emotionally drained by the experience of reading a book.

I don’t know if I necessarily came away from this book with a stronger understanding of the situation in Yugoslavia, but I do feel like it will stick with me for a long, long time.
Profile Image for Betsy Robinson.
Author 9 books1,035 followers
March 19, 2016
This is very serviceable writing. This novel sounds like a memoir, and with enormous interest and horror I learned a lot about the Yugoslavian civil war.

My interest comes from my alarm and dismay at our current American political climate. Because of our Constitution (our religious freedom, freedom of speech, separation of church and state, and despite what many claim, the fact that the USA is not affiliated with any one religion and is in fact a nation of immigrants and its founders were the founders only because they committed genocide and stole lands from Native Peoples—please forgive my rant; the insanity is contagious so perhaps I'm losing my mind), many of us who have grown up with the privilege of USA citizenship think we are immune to the kind of civil wars that are tearing up the rest of the world. I no longer think that anybody is immune to anything, and I guess I want to know more about what could happen.

Girl at War is not high art or knock-your-socks-off writing, but it is relatable and did the job of educating me. The first third and a later section are about the war, and the rest is a serviceable plot about dealing with it. The writing has a Young Adult quality that lacks depth, and while it's an easy read, sometimes it felt like “PTSD-lite” and I wished for more soul. Part of the lack of depth—particularly in the dialogue, due to an absence of the ineffable stuff that can happen in the synapses between words—may be because the author is deaf, a fact I learned toward the end of my reading when I was puzzling over the difference in the writing in the war action sections and the American girlfriend/boyfriend talks. The following is from an interview with Sara Novic in The Guardian :
Another part of writing that seems inextricable from hearing is dialogue. Someone who writes dialogue well is said to “have an ear” for it. I don’t think I write dialogue well. Whether this is just your average writerly paranoia or is linked to the physiology of hearing loss, I can’t say. . . In the writing world, any trace of this directness [of American Sign Language] translates as “bad dialogue.” “That’s not how people talk,” my workshop mates have said. And of course, they’re right.

Mystery solved. Even though I longed for more soul and subtext and authentic dialogue sound, I am glad I read Girl at War; I’m a little less dumb now and grateful.
Profile Image for flora .
220 reviews299 followers
October 14, 2018
" أتعرفون ما هو الوطن .. الوطن هو ألا يحدث ذلك كله "
أتعرفون ما هو الوطن .. ما هي فكرة الحرب والتشتت .. ماهي الحالة النفسية التي قد
يعيشها الشخص ما بعد الحرب والتي قد تستمر إلى ما لا نهاية
أيهما أصعب أن تعيش في بلدك وقت الحرب أو أن تجد لك وطنا بديلا يتسع لك ولأحلامك
ولكن سؤالي هنا ؟
!!ماذا عن الوطن بعد انتهاء الحرب؟؟ ألا يبقى يطاردنا في أحلامنا ويقظتنا وإن عدنا إليه
هل قد نجد أنفسنا من جديد
هل نتعرف عليه ويتعرف علينا
هل يعود كما كان ؟ أم أن الأوطان بعد الحروب تعود بصورة مشوهة وضئيلة
صورة لا يمكن ترميمها حتى في أحلامنا
قد نندم لفكرة العودة والبحث عن الأجوبة .. فنعود مع أسئلة أكثر وأكبر قد لا يتحملها العقل
قد نجد بعض السلام والهدوء للمضي قدما
ولكن في النهاية يبقى السؤال
هل نعود نحن كما كنا قبل الحرب ..؟
تقودنا آنا في دوامة من الأسئلة .. الحيرة .. والخوف.. وما بين الماضي والحاضر تتأرجح
الرواية تارة , مابين كرواتيا قبل الحرب ثم الحرب .. أميركا فيما بعد .. و العودة لكرواتيا
مع استرجاع لفترة الحرب وما حدث فيها من مآسي
و نخوض معها آلاف الأسئلة والمخاوف الأبدية وفي ظل مخاوفها نجد أنفسنا محاصرين
بخوف ربما أكبر ..

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