Sunday, July 16, 2006

Book Review: Postcards From The Grave

Book Review: Postcards From The Grave.

I hope that one of the major features of this blog will be book reviews on books that have inspired, touched or provoked me. For my first book review-I would like to write about a little known, yet superb book called "Postcards From The Grave" by Emir Suljagic.

"Enclave. This cold and precise word denotes all the differences between us, inside, and them outside (pg 25)." So says Emir Suljagic. The "enclave" he is talking about is Srebrenica in Eastern Bosnia. In 1992 Srebrenica is a refuge for Bosniaks fleeing the ethnic cleaning of the Bosnian Serb/Serb forces. In 1993, the UN declares Srebrenica to become the world's first "Safe Area." In 1995, Bosnian Serb General, Ratko Mladic would overtake the town-killing between 7000-8000 men and boys in what would be the first legally recognized act of genocide on European soil.

For those of us, lucky enough to be on the 'outside' during those three horrible years, Suljagic's book gives an intimate account of life in the enclave. Broken down into five sections-Surviving, War, Hopelessness, The Fall, and People. Each section contains several essays-each which could stand on their own, yet together create a cohesive and haunting memoir.

One of the reasons the book is worth reading is that Suljagic is a very good writer. In a short paragraph he conveys emotions and details that a less skilled writer would not be able to convey in pages of writing.

Another reason why Suljagic is a good writer is his honesty. Memoirs by their very nature sure reveal something about their author, and in "Postcards From The Grave" Suljagic reveals how basic survival instinct led him to become "aggressive and cruel (pg. 34)." Suljagic also does not shy away from discussing the "activities" of some of the town authorites-which ranged from organizing the black market to murder. He also discusses the "activities" of some of the UN soldiers, from taking part in black market exchanges to engaging in sex acts with young teenage girls in the enclave. And always, hidden in the shadows are the VRS (Bosnian Serb) troops, who starve, shoot and shell the besieged town.

It would be a mistake to assume that this book is filled with angry accusations and written with rage-nothing could be further from the truth. And despite the depressing subject matter-there are some truly beautiful moments in the book. Suljagic is at his best when he talks about the everyday people in Srebrenica, the nameless faceless people who are now scattered all over the globe-or who lie in a grave in Potocari. He writes about a family whose poor health recovers thanks to some bread made from milkpowder. And of playing video games with Sead and Senad Dautbasic, the twins whose morality and innate goodness in the face of war is truly humbling to read about. Some of the moments are so simple yet, so poignant. Such as seeing his neighbor, holding his infant daughter in his arms and holding onto the hand of his 5 year old daughter, just before the man will be taken and executed by Serb troops in July 1995.

In the introduction, Suljagic writes that:

The people of Srebrenica "were not any or more wonderful, good or bad thn anyone else. Wonderful in so far as they were human. And in so far as I knew them."

By writing Postcards From the Grave, Suljagic is able to give all of us on the outside an intimate look at the human toll the war in Bosnia took.

Originally posted on I am over my head-by me.

Comments originally posted on I am over my head blog

At 7:20 PM, Srebrenica Massacre said...
Actually, it's not 7000-8000 dead, it's over 8,100 dead men and children.

Read FAQ's:

At 4:46 AM, Owen said...
Shaina, that's a great review. I read the book last year after hearing Suljagic talk. He comes across in person as being as honest and human as the impression you get from the book.

At 1:57 PM, Shaina said...
Thanks for your comment Owen.

Thanks for the stats Srebrenica Massacre.

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