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Sunday, 3 June 2012

Books - Besieged:Life Under Fire on a Sarajevo Street by Barbara Demick

Star rating – 9/10

It has always been an incredible thought for me that a relatively well developed city like Sarajevo, which only ten years prior to the war with Serbian was hosting stars like Torville and Dean in the Winter Olympics, was subjected to a horrifying siege for forty four months. American journalist Barbara Demick has just published an intimate account of the events of that time, through the experiences of the residents of a single street in the Bosnian capital. And her account of exactly what it was like to live through the siege in Logavina Street brings the horrors of war to life in a way no normal historical or political account could do.

Logavina Street is six blocks long, and at the time of the siege housed mainly Muslim families, although people from all ethnic backgrounds also lived there. Demick spent a couple of years amongst the people there, and tells from firsthand experience how their homes and lives were shattered by the incessant bombardment from Serbian guns in the hills around the city. It is also a story of proud resistance, as the inhabitants developed ingenious strategies to get by, and refused to give into the Serbian bullies. 

Each day was a constant battle to get the basic necessities for living, like power, water, and what food could be had, which was not much at all. Some people managed to escape, most chose to stay and fight. And some of the little details here are the most powerful, like the women who made sure they went out with their hair dyed and make up in place, before dodging the snipers’ bullets. Recounting such small acts of defiance are what makes this book an extraordinary read.

It’s also shocking to read again about how long the Serbian army was allowed to continue to massacre the civilians of Sarajevo, while other nations looked on. As the trial of Serb leader Radovan Karadžić for war crimes rumbles on, the book is an important reminder of just what happened to ordinary, innocent people in Bosnia as a result of his and others’ actions. It is almost impossible to put down – Demick brings the full horror to a vivid reality by relating it to the everyday experiences of the men, women and children who had to live through it. 

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