The Bosnian Wars

Dervisevic-Cesic, Jasmina.  River Runs Salt, Runs Sweet: A Memoir of Visegrad, Bosnia (Panisphere Books, 2003).

How do we suvive the things that happen to us, these horrible things? By taking this moment, and then the next one, one at a time. By telling our truth without being broken to pieces by the difference between what our lives once were and what they had become.  --from "The River Runs Salt, Runs Sweet"

This memoir of a Bosnian girl who comes of age during the disintegration of Yugoslavia is a fascinating story but, even more, it is an important piece of literature, in the tradition of Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl, and When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. The telling is simple and straightforward, but the messages, like the war itself, are complex. Through Jasmina's eyes, we see not only the loss and horror of war, but we feel the spirit of cooperation fostered by it, and the live-in-the-moment adrenaline rush. We watch children who grew up as friends turn away from each other to take sides based on hostilities perpetrated long before they were born. We view both the Serbs and the UN peacekeeping forces as obstacles in a very real human "video game." We see the frustration of those who must deal with unnecessary bureaucracy in order to secure necessary help and care. We witness wartime medical care at its most barbaric, and are given rare insight into the human ability to survive.

The River Runs Salt, Runs Sweet is an excellent depiction of an ordinary life blown apart by political and cultural violence. We in the US can talk political theory and debate the merits of waging war while we relax, clean, warm and well-fed, in front of the TV, at a safe distance from the consequences of what governments actually do. But only those who live the disruption, confusion and destruction, the great discomfort and crushing losses and, yes, the fierce comradery, know what war really is. Jasmina Dervisevic-Cesic gives us a gift of first-hand witness; she re-lives her experience on paper here for us with enormous bravery, a measure of anger, and a river of hard-won wisdom. This is history at ground level, immediate and affecting. It is a clear-eyed look into the worst, and the best, of human nature. Teenagers will relate to it because of the youth of the narrator, but readers of all ages will gain a fresh, insider perspective into the surprisingly familiar culture and baffling political morass that was the dying Yugoslavia. Jasmina tells her truth with skill; we stand to gain much, on a human scale, by listening.

Review by Voices' member, Susan O'Neill, Author


Helata, Savo. Not My Turn to Die (AMACOM, 2008).

In 1992, Savo Heleta was a young Serbian boy enjoying an idyllic, peaceful childhood in Gorazde, a primarily Muslim city in Bosnia. At the age of just thirteen, Savo's life was turned upside down as war broke out. When Bosnian Serbs attacked the city, Savo and his family became objects of suspicion overnight. Through the next two years, they endured treatment that no human being should ever be subjected to. Their lives were threatened, they were shot at, terrorized, put in a detention camp, starved, and eventually stripped of everything they owned. But after two long years, Savo and his family managed to escape. And then the real transformation took place.

From his childhood before the war to his internment and eventual freedom, we follow Savo's emotional journey from a young teenager seeking retribution to a peace-seeking diplomat seeking healing and reconciliation. As the war unfolds, we meet the incredible people who helped shape Savo's life, from his brave younger sister Sanja to Meho, the family friend who would become the family's ultimate betrayer. Through it all, we begin to understand this young man's arduous struggle to forgive the very people he could no longer trust. At once powerful and elegiac, Not My Turn to Die offers a unique look at a conflict that continues to fascinate and enlighten us.