Yet again, I must confess to buying this book for purely shallow reasons. I used to work in a charity shop and this book sat on the shelf for so long that I began to feel sorry for it and so bought it myself. This isn’t a novel, but a diary kept between 1991 and 1993 by Zlata Filipović, an 11 year old girl (born in 1980) living in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war.
Zlata is a normal girl who’s greatest worries include whether or not to join the Madonna fan club. She received a diary for her 11th birthday and decided to write in it daily, inspired by Adrian Mole! Shortly after her birthday that all changes as war breaks out. Day by day she documents how life changes all around her. Family friends flee as ethnic tensions erupt all around. One day her school is closed, the next day the bombs start.
In many ways, this is similar to Anne Frank’s Diary. It’s a true account of a young girl stuck in the middle of a war, with her diary as her closest remaining friend. Unlike Anne Frank, Zlata never went into hiding. Her family continued to live in their home until 1993 when foreign journalists took an interest in her diary, highlighting her cause and prompting the United Nations to help them escape to Paris.
Unlike Anne Frank, it’s not entirely clear who the bad guys are here. Zlata herself finds the whole political situation too convoluted to explain or understand, just hoping that the shells don’t land within 50metres of her home. There’s a particular entry about when Zlata goes to visit her grandparents, racing across a dangerous bridge before the shelling begins again that struck home how lucky my life has been.
These innocent people lived for years in a war zone, with no water, electricity, freedom or way out. It’s not a particularly well known book, but it’s well written. Zlata is clearly intelligent and articulate, though sometimes the translation fells a bit clunky. If you have any interest in war diaries or the Balkan Wars then I’d definitely recommend reading this. Also, I’d recommend it to anybody who needs reminding how lucky their childhood was.
“Monday, March 15, 1993
There are no trees to blossom and no birds, because the war has destroyed them as well. There is no sound of birds twittering in springtime. There aren’t even any pigeons – the symbol of Sarajevo. No noisy children, no games. Even the children no longer seem like children. They’ve had their childhood taken from them, and without that they can’t be children. It’s as if Sarajevo is slowly dying, disappearing. Life is disappearing. So how can I feel spring, when spring is something that awakens life, and here there is no life, here everything seems to have died.”
If you like childhood war diaries you might like The Diary Of Anne Frank
If you like novels about living in a war zone you might like Guernica