Girl At War by Sara Novic
Book review by Saima Bukhtiar
Girl at war is a fiction novel in which, Ana, the main character, a 10 year old, is trying to survive amidst the Bosnian-Croat conflict, in the summer of 1991. The story starts from Ana’s carefree childhood days, playing on the streets of Zagreb and builds up to how the city transforms when the civil war breaks out. How school going children, playing street football end up becoming child soldiers, in order to survive.
As a child, Ana is a tomboy, she idolizes her father and helps take care of her baby sister, who is suffering from an illness. Unable to provide medical care, Ana’s parents send their younger daughter to America. It is at this point, the story takes a tragic turn and Ana is left alone to survive the brutality of war. Her Godfather makes arrangements for Ana to escape to America, where she is reunited with her sister. Though safe now, Ana consistently struggles emotionally due to what she has witnessed, lost and been through in Zagreb.
The author, Sara Novic, goes back and forth between Ana in Zagreb, and the grown up Ana attending college in New York. In America, people have heard of the war and asked her about it, but after realizing they don’t truly understand, she hides her past, even from her boyfriend.
In America, I’d learned quickly that it was okay to talk about 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 has been there in ’84.
Their musings about how and why people stayed in a country under such terrible conditions were what I hated the most. I knew it was ignorance, not insight that prompted these questions. They asked because they hadn’t smelled that 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.
Emotionally exhausted, Ana decides to visit Zegrab. She feels that no one is truly able to understand what it was like being a 10 year old by yourself in a war stricken place. Ana feels torn and lost, unsure as to where she belongs.
Basically, no one here knows who I am, not even me, and I think coming home might set me straight.
Upon reaching Zagreb, the place she considered home, Ana realizes how much she herself has changed. She is no longer fluent in speaking her mother tongue. The city itself had changed a lot. As we arrive to the final pages of the book, Ana talks about how she comes to terms with these changes, and finds an essence of inner peace.
The book sheds light on the fact that even if someone escapes a place that threatens their life, they could still continue to struggle emotionally. Sometimes going back to the place of trauma can give closure to an extent and bring peace and acceptance.