REVIEW: Girl at War by Sara Nović

SYNOPSIS: 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.

GENRE: Fiction, Historical, War

RATING: ★★★★☆ / 4 powerful and understated stars.

REVIEW: Perhaps it was the fact that I had just finished another wartime fiction book, one that was overly verbose, but I responded so positively to this encapsulated book. It seems so simple and easy to read but it has a wealth of depth living amidst it's pages. It's power lies in it's understated words, not feeling the need to hit you in the face every other page, but rather giving you the time to truly feel the horrors of war creeping up on you.

Girl at War is divided into several parts and told solely from the perspective of Ana. Unlike many wartime novels I've read lately, where many different stories from several viewpoints mix and converge, the singular perspective of Ana gives this book a memoir-like quality. It feels incredibly real. It was hard to remember at times that, although based on actual historical events, this in still a work of fiction.

The story starts with the adolescent Ana in the first part of the book, when the civil war and surrounding events slowly creep into her young life and then shatter her existence ( side note: by the end of part one I had the breath catching tears). As we move forward in the book, it skips ahead, cutting to Ana the college student. I love a good jump-cut and Novic did this beautifully. We skip back and forth in time at several points and yet the momentum of the book was never lost. It was perfect.

One of the more notable aspects of the book was the secondary characters that cross paths with Ana. Their reactions to her experiences run the gamut and Ana's interpretations, and thereby the authors interpretations, of these actions and reactions is incredibly brilliant. It makes you really think about your own reactions to the stories that other people tell you about their lives.

In essence, this novel is about the search for self, and whether that lies in family, country, experiences, or something ineffable. The author weaves an incredible story, filled with wisdom, and never a word out of place. I highly recommend.


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