Translated from Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursać
Published by Seven Stories Press UK, 2021, 223 pages. Original version published in 2016.
“Everyone is running from someone, or from their own past.”
Corruption and the long shadows thrown by war are at the heart of this political thriller from Croatia.
Nora, a young journalist in Zagreb, is sent to report on a story in another city. A Croatian schoolteacher has been accused of seducing one of her Serbian pupils and then manipulating him into shooting her husband, a Croatian war veteran.
The city—left unnamed, but probably Vukovar—is home to a Croatian majority and a Serbian minority. There is friction between the two communities. Barbed wire fences running through school playgrounds keep the Serbian and Croatian children apart. Corruption is rampant, and the city is run by a self-serving coterie, who are jostling for kickbacks from the sale of the city’s port to a private buyer.
The country is still haunted by ghosts from the past, and by the crimes committed during the war in the 1990s that broke up Yugoslavia. Nora’s father disappeared during the war, and attempts by her and her mother to find out what really happened are met with dismissals or threats. Nora, however, refuses to let it go.
As Nora works on the story about the schoolteacher, events take a dramatic turn. The mayor is murdered, and Nora, with the help of Dejan—a taxi driver, who seems to know a lot about what is happening in the city—tries to uncover the city’s murky secrets. She hopes that her investigation will also help her to find out what happened to her father. But it is always dangerous to get in the way of the powerful.
The book was controversial, not least because it “exposes the venality, the cynicism, and the tragedy of Vukovar—and by extension, of the people of the former Yugoslavia generally, a tragedy that can no longer be ascribed to an external enemy” (Translator’s Note, Ellen Elias-Bursać).
Ivana Bodrožić pulls no punches. This is a powerful and dark book that exposes how war can destroy lives, even years after it has ended, and how a small group of people profit from feeding the flames and making sure that there is no real peace. Unfortunately, this scenario is more familiar than it should be and is not something that is particular to the former Yugoslavia.
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