Thursday, 17 August 2017

Girl At War by Sara Novic and Why You Need Tissues

I have read a few war novels over the years but Girl At War stands out for a few reasons - the main one being it's a much more personal experience. Told from Ana's perspective, Girl At War follows her journey from a carefree ten year old living in Zagreb in 1991, to surviving the ethnic atrocities and fleeing to America. As a college student Ana can't escape from her past, and returns to Croatia to lay her ghosts to rest.

I can't tell you how many times I cried during this book. I think in the end my eyes just had a permanent watery state about them. Watching the war through Ana's eyes was heartbreaking and yet, she is such a strong character, resilient and determined in many ways. I think it was her strength that sometimes upset me, that a child of ten becomes used to the backdrop of war, death and terror. I remember watching the war unfold on television as a child and it dawning on me for the first time that there were people around the world living in fear, persecuted simply for their race or religion. I was about seven at the time. Maybe some of those childhood memories came back to me while reading this, I'm not sure. But, whatever it was, Girl at War was an emotional reading experience.

There were other reasons this book stood out to me. Sara Novic touches on the themes of grief and resilience. As Ana struggles to adjust to life in America she learns to bury the ghosts of her war for the sake of those around her. Like grief, empathy for Ana's situation is shortlived, with most people wanting to move on - her adoptive parents refer to the war never directly for fear of not wanting to upset her. Unfortunately, as anyone who experiences grief knows, these feelings don't just fade away. There is no getting over losing someone, including your home and culture. Ana struggles with feelings of loss - both for the family she has left behind and being an outsider in her new home and guilt at not feeling grateful for the new life she has been given.

I hope I haven't painted this book as a depressing read, because it's not but Ana's story will stay with you long after closing the final chapter. There is death, but there is also hope and peace in Ana's story. Overall Girl at War was a stunning read, unlike any war novel I have read before.

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