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S.: A Novel about the Balkans

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  1,835 ratings  ·  231 reviews
Set in 1992, during the height of the Bosnian war, S. reveals one of the most horrifying aspects of any war: the rape and torture of civilian women by occupying forces. S. is the story of a Bosnian woman in exile who has just given birth to an unwanted child—one without a country, a name, a father, or a language. Its birth only reminds her of an even more grueling experien ...more
Paperback, 201 pages
Published January 1st 2001 by Penguin Books (first published 1999)
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We don’t get to learn her name - As If I Am Not There is the original title, and it is true. Throughout the story she remains just S., the lack of name fitting the dehumanization in the brutality of the war in the 1992 Bosnia - a recent war, just three decades ago now, a senseless war with neighbor turning against neighbor, so surreal and and coldly brutal.
“Her picture of reality is shattering, as if the television screen had exploded that day and the war had simply spilled into her apartment
Steven Godin
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-balkans, fiction
Croatian journalist, novelist, and essayist Slavenka Drakulić has written a terrifyingly fierce and painful novel of a country's lost identity, told through the suffering of a nameless group of female inmates in a camp and their difficult attempts to rebuild their lives after liberation. All the characters are simply known by a single initial, with the main focal point being a woman called S. She has just given birth in a Stockholm hospital to a child she wants nothing to do with after being rep ...more
This was the first Drakulic I read, and at the time, I felt incapable of writing a review, although I consider it both very well written as a novel and immensely important as a historical reflection on the routine of rape during wars.

There was a double reason why I could not put into words what I thought. First of all, I struggled with the closeness of the atrocious events: both in a geographical and historical sense. This book took me to a war in Europe during my own lifetime, my teenage years
Emily May
Aug 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, historical
When your country is at war with another, or perhaps many others, you are aware of the risk to human life. You know soldiers will die, you know that some of these may be people you know or even your loved ones. But, though the civilians at home worry about those who are away fighting for their country, they rarely see themselves as part of the war. The threat to them seems far away, almost unreal. So when the occupying forces marched into the Bosnian village where S. lived, her immediate reactio ...more
Dec 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don’t know why I have read this book at this very time, close to Christmas, it is a devastating book and it is nothing compared to the reality experienced by this woman, which the author will simply call S.
This woman will be deported along with other residents of her village, only to be Bosnian .... This was enough, during the terrible war in the Balkans in 1992, to determine the death of people....
I say immediately, the narration and the events that are reported are strong if not more' than m
Jun 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: EVERYONE!
"Is it good to remember or is it easier to survive if you forget you ever lived a normal life?"

Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulic wrote this simplistic but powerful story inspired by the personal accounts of various Bosnian Muslim civilian women and their horrific experiences during the Bosnian War in the 1990s. Told in 3rd person, atrocities to these women, such as rape and torture by the soldiers guarding them in order to humiliate and degrade them, are graphically depicted. The author expl
K.D. Absolutely
Apr 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Shelves: saddest, war, race, 1001-core
Slavenka Drakulic (born 1949) is a Croatian novelist, sociologist and a journalist who writes mainly on women issues. This is my opening sentence because when I picked up this book, I asked myself: Drakulic, who? and thought that this was a horror book. Hmmm. Drakulic=Dracula. Bosnia=Yugoslavia=Transylvania. Enough, K.D. Stop. Must be the Halloween spirit. This is a serious book.

Very much, indeed. S: A Novel About Balkans a.k.a. As If I Am Not There is about rape, torture, and sexual slavery
Steve Kettmann
Apr 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
My original review (2000) in the San Francisco Chronicle

S. A Novel of the Balkans By Slavenka Drakulic Viking; 216 pages; $22.95
Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulic has given the world a gift, digging into the twisted reality of the war that splintered the former Yugoslavia and emerging with ``S.,'' a searing story about a woman held in a Bosnian concentration camp. It is a haunting, difficult novel that is also somehow redemptive.

In the past, Drakulic has demonstrated in essays such as ``Cafe Euro
Muhammad Juneem
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
A must read book.It reminded me of movies such as Incendies, Beanpole and Aurora Borealis
"Their murderers need to forget, but their victims must not let them "
Ana WJ
Dec 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I am so thankful this novel exists
A sad tale of the brutality of rape in war told through the experiences of an unnamed Bosnian woman who is entrapped as one of a group of women who are repeatedly raped by their Serbian guards. The story covers her capture, her life in the camp and importantly the months after being freed and how she copes with her life.
The writing is a sparse, cold and bleak. The story is ugly but it tells a real tale for what happens too many women who find themselves in a conflict or war zone. An important bo
Aug 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I discovered Slavenka Drakulić's novel 'S. : a novel about the Balkans' recently. I tried to stay strong and brave today, when I started to read it.

S. is in a hospital in Stockholm. She has just given birth to her baby. But S. doesn't want to touch her baby. She doesn't want to keep it. She wants to give it up for adoption. We are puzzled why. The story travels a year back in time. S. is a school teacher in a village in Bosnia. It is the early '90s. One day she hears some loud conversation in th
Mar 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008
this novel concerns the systematized rape and torture of civilian bosnian women during the conflicts in the balkans during the early nineties. it's deeply troubling stuff-- almost a psychosexual counterpart to a day in the life of ivan denisovich. which begs the inevitable question-- why am i reading this? certainly there's an impulse to somehow "bear witness" (however wishy-washy), and drakulic does a great job of emphasizing the necessity that such events be remembered (as well as, ironically, ...more
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: central-europe
I always thought that war atrocities are something from the distant past, when there was no human rights neither Geneva convention. Usually I imagine them to be part of wars from the Dark Ages, or even more distant, like Antiquity or Stone Age. But I always forget how relatively recent were World Wars (a meager 70 years), or the Bosnian War or even more recently, the War from Eastern Ukraine, about which if I will hear similar atrocities I would not be surprised.

This is just what this novel and
Ruby Hollyberry
Jan 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I saw the Irish Produced film first, which is how I found out about the novel. The film was very similar, but the novel, of course, was better. The writing is effortless, and one has to read this in one sitting. The events seem absolutely inconceivable, but I suppose that is how all of these kinds of conflicts start. With a sense of disbelief. One of the best first hand account type works I have ever read. Even though it is fiction, it is clear that the author is very familiar with the subject m ...more
This a great book but a really difficult one to read. It is set during the 1990's Bosnian war and is about the systematic rape and killing of Bosnian Muslim women by Serbian soldiers both in their towns and villages but later in the concentration camps. It is a story told by a woman only identified by the initial S. - the sad truth being that the women will never identify the rapists, for fear that they will be victimised even further after returning to the Muslim community. ...more
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: balkans
It is certainly important to testify on the gruesome realities of war, in this case the rapes committed by Serbian soldiers on Bosnian muslim women, but I think that the choice of a first-person narrative that focuses on the projected inner life of the victim is an inappropriate idea. It sounds inauthentic and slightly exploitative.
Ron Wroblewski
Feb 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a terrible yet realistic book about the way woman are used (misused) during war. It is very sad that things like this happen and the men who treat women like things to be used should be used on the gallows.
Lying in her hospital bed in Stockholm she still does not know what to call it, although she knows that the word already exists and that word is war. But for her, war is merely a general term, a collective noun for so many individuals stories. War is every individual, it is what happened to that individual, how it happened, how it changed that person's life. For her, war is this child she had to give birth to.
Oct 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing

“S. A Novel About the Balkans” by Slavenka Drakulić is a fictionalized account of the 1992 war in Bosnia (former Yugoslavia) that Centers on the experience of S., a woman who became a weapon of war.

Although this is a fictional novel, it was written based on real accounts of Bosnian women who encountered horrific sexual assault and abuse at the hands of their captors. The lack of names throughout the novel made the story even more engaging, as every female character represents how univers
"S.," also know as "As If I Am Not There" -- a harrowing, haunting novel set in Bosnia in the years 1992 and 1993 -- is about the systemic rape and humiliation of a schoolteacher of mixed Serbian and Bosnian heredity. When Serbian forces enter her village, S. spends months in an all female compound of a Serbian concentration camp where she is subjected to continual sexual violence and beatings. The novel culminates with her arrival in Scandinavia as a refugee -- pregnant, homeless, and ambivalen ...more
Apr 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Postmodern non-linear narratives are hard to read. You never know "when" you are. I love this in movies because visual cues always show me where I am. Non linear narratives mess up the story in compelling ways and show how our past and future often collide in our present. And yet, I always have trouble reading out of time. I miss the cues that are obvious to other readers. S. is a non-linear novel in the beginning and I certainly had trouble keeping in time.

S.reveals the tragedy of war on women
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Perhaps the most devastating thing about the 1990s war in Bosnia was that it took place while elsewhere, we were cheering on USA 94, listening to Suede and Blur, watching Supermarket Sweep and debating the Maastricht Treaty ad nauseam. Meanwhile, genocide and rape were taking place on our virtual doorstep.

This volume takes the character of 'S' and charts her progress from Serb internment camp to Croatian refugee camp to Swedish exile, painting a vivid portrait of everyday horror, the vast ma
Apr 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: war, gender-studies
This book provides insight into the physical and psychological horrors Croatian women faced during the Bosnian War in the early 1990's.

The author never gives the names of the women depicted in the book. Instead, she chooses to identify them only by an initial. The protagonist identified as "S" is not necessarily a real person, she appears to composite the true experiences of many women. Therefore, the few stories in this book give voice to around 50,000 Croatian women who were raped and torture
Kristyna Muhlfeit
Perfectly written novel. It is the plot and message of the Handmaid’s Tale but it - it is not Gilead- it is Bosnia. It is not a dystopian future- it is reality. (And the language and writing style are far superior to that of The Handmaid’s Tale. The reader feels more part of the story and empathetic to the characters) Slavenka Drakulić is an amazing writer and astoundingly underrated. She beautifully portrays the savagely tragic life of a Bosnian school teacher as she endures unspeakable evils d ...more
Erik Graff
Feb 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Anna-Kristina Graff
Shelves: literature
This book was given to me as a Christmas present by my niece, Norwegian on her father's, Bosnian Serb on her mother's side. Based on interviews, it is a novelized account of one young Bosnian woman's life from the time of her capture by the Serbs, through her imprisonment to her resettlement as a refugee in Sweden--a period of just about one year. While imprisoned, the protagonist, 'S' in the novel, is, along with other young women and girls, repeatedly and often violently raped, her story begin ...more
Most books dealing with war seem to focus on life in the frontline, As if i am not there deals with what was happening to civillians in Bosnia and in particular to the muslims.
The characters are referred to by letters, which makes them seem to stand for more than just any individual. People deal with what is happening to them in different ways, by pretending it's not them, or trying to seem invisible. It's harrowing and difficult to read, but it's also a book which ends with a glimmmer of hope.
Olivia Camp
Jan 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: current-lit
"Their murderers need to forget, but their victims must not let them."

What a powerful story. Never have I read something so horrific yet beautiful, with an emotional depth so unimaginable. I found myself constantly shocked as I continuously remembered the truth and nearness of its events. This novel will wreck you and leave you feeling utterly empty of all emotion over what thousands of women went through during the Bosnian war. Never have I ever felt such despair and connection over a story. I
Erma Odrach
Jul 29, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
S. is about a Bosnian woman who finds herself in a prison during the Bosnian war of the early 1990's. She is repeatedly raped, dehumanized and starved. Drakulic paints a horrific picture and with great detail. It is a book not just about the suffering of female prisoners but also of how war can turn some men into animals. A very upsetting read, but necessary. Although this is a novel, I felt it would have faired much better in the non-fiction category. ...more
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Slavenka Drakulić (1949) is a noted Croatian writer and publicist, whose books have been translated into many languages.

In her fiction Drakulić has touched on a variety of topics, such as dealing with illness and fear of death in Holograms of fear; the destructive power of sexual desire in Marble skin; an unconventional relationship in The taste of a man; cruelty of war and rape victims in S. A N

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