Book review: Poetic heartbreak in Girl at War


I have to be honest with you. It took me a whole month to read Girl at War, and I typically read four books per month. This has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the work and everything to do with the whirlwind that was my life in August. Between keeping the house pristine for showings, packing up our home up, and moving out to San Francisco, I had little time to indulge in reading, which was quite defeating for me. I thought I'd catch up during the 27-hour trip from Dallas to San Francisco, but I learned quickly that I now get carsick very easily.

I am extremely thrilled that I can finally write this review. If you haven't heard of Girl at War, let me me the first to convey how incredible it is. But first, I should probably give you a little context.

Girl at War is Sara Nović's debut novel. Ms. Nović is originally from Croatia, and her novel follows young Ana Jurić, who is caught in quite literally in a war zone during the Yugoslavian conflict of the 90s. I have to admit, I didn't know much about the Yugoslavian Civil War befor reading this book (other than that it happened), so while this novel was very much fiction, it served as a history lesson for me, as well. I believe that's the mark of a truly profound historical fiction work; if the other can master the entertainment level that comes with fiction while managing to teach you something, the author has created a masterpiece.

Something I admire about Sara Nović is her ability to transform simple phrases into poetic crafts. For example, instead of saying, "I couldn't move," Ms. Nović says, "...I found my feet reluctant to take orders." In addition, she does a beautiful job creating imagery that allows the reader to understand how truly divergent the protagonist's homeland is from home she knows in the United States; she describes a village's ability to separate itself from the insanity of the rest of the world by stating "the village [will] not be governed by time." I lost myself in these alluring parallels, and although I was anxious to finish because the work was so astounding, I paused sometimes to make sure I fully understood the setting and the way the characters felt.

Then, of course, there is the element of despair that comes with this novel. I've read tons of books centered on World War II, the Holocaust and other serious conflicts, but this was a bit different for me because I was so unfamiliar with the war. At times I felt as though I was reading about a made-up conflict; that's how unbelievable some of the scenes seemed (and not unbelievable as it relates to Ms. Nović's ability to create a viable scene).

This novel earned a five-star rating from me on Goodreads, and I highly recommend it as your next read. It is captivating, awe-inspiring, heart-wrenching and enthralling all at the same time.

Have you read Girl at War? I'd love to hear your thoughts! I'd also love to know what you are currently reading, so drop me a note in the comments!

Visit Sara Nović's website to learn more.

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