Goodbye Sarajevo Book Review
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." -Aesop Goodbye Sarajevo Book Review
The Bosnian War was the first major armed conflict in Europe since World War II. It lasted from 1992 to 1995 and resulted in the deaths of 100,000 people and the displacement of an additional 2.2 million. The conflict began when Bosnia-Herzegovina declared independence from the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. Bosnian Muslims made up 44% of the new nation, but the Bosnian Serbs were offended that they had not been given their own land as part of the deal, so they turned on their Muslim neighbors and initiated a bloody war, largely against civilians.
The siege of Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, from April 1992 to February 1996 has become a well-known aspect of the Bosnian War and was the longest siege of a major city in modern history. Goodbye Sarajevo is written by Hana Schofield and Atka Reid, two Bosnian Muslim sisters, one who lived inside the besieged city, and one who lived in Croatia as a refugee wondering if the rest of her family was safe.
The book is narrated by Hana and Atka in first person as they go back and forth telling their respective stories. Their descriptions of life during those tumultuous years are vivid and filled with emotion. Their story highlights the complexity of the conflict, but also expresses frustration toward those who cannot understand an insider’s perspective of it. To them, the problem is simple: they are trapped in their own city with their friends and family while risking death every day because of an international agreement they had no direct role in.
It took years for the international community to acknowledge the atrocities occurring in Bosnia, and even longer for them to intervene in the interests of innocent civilians. Goodbye Sarajevo ends before that intervention, so the extreme frustration of Sarajevo’s residents and Bosnian refugees against those who seem to have forgotten them becomes a dominant emotion. While reading, I began to identify with Hana and Atka, internalizing their frustrations, but at the same time realizing that the despair I felt while reading the book could be no match for the turmoil they must have felt while living through it.
In the final third of the book, that tension and frustration were released in a flood of tears as I read, mirroring the relief and joy that Hana, Atka, and their family felt when they realized they would be safe. The overwhelming kindness of those who gave all they could to help Hana and Atka caused me to weep while I read. I was reminded that simple kindness can make all the difference in the life of a refugee. Those who helped Hana and Atka were ordinary people who were overflowing with extraordinary kindness. We too can do the same.
If you want to learn about an important historic conflict through the eyes of its victims, then I highly recommend Goodbye Sarajevo. It reads like a novel, but is a factual account of Hana and Atka’s experiences during the Bosnian War. While the account of the hardships they faced is vivid, it is not unnecessarily graphic. There are also occasional instances of language that are included in the interest of accurately recorded conversations.