WITH THEIR BACKS TO THE WORLD by Åsne Seierstad

WITH THEIR BACKS TO THE WORLD

Portraits from Serbia
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An intrepid Norwegian journalist follows the varied fortunes of Serbs—ranging from celebrities to refugees—during and after the reign of Slobodan Milosevic.

Seierstad has trod the bloody ground of Afghanistan (The Bookseller of Kabul, 2003) and Iraq (A Hundred and One Days, 2005) and here recounts her experiences in Serbia between 1999 and 2004. She tells the stories of 13 individuals and one family, virtually all of whom share two beliefs: The Serbs committed no war crimes or “ethnic cleansing”; and the United States is the cause of all their troubles. Says a Milosevic protégé: “America is the source of all wickedness in the world.” To Seierstad’s credit, she does not accept these assertions silently; rather, she prompts her sources to elaborate and to justify. Most merely repeat what they’ve seen on government television—or rumors they’ve heard from frustrated friends. Seierstad interviewed people who varied widely on just about every human dimension—income, education, sophistication, political affiliation, celebrity. Among the latter were some media personalities, a novelist (Ana Rodic, whose Roots was a Serbian bestseller) and rock musician Antonio Pusic, who goes by “Rambo Amadeus” and describes his music as “acid-horror-funk.” Seierstad went boating with him and added some tracks to one of his CDs. Among the many charms of the author’s work is that her Serb contacts are all invariably glad to see her, grateful for her attention, eager to tell their stories. (Some even try to find her a husband.) Perhaps the most touching story is that of a family from Kosovo now living in a refugee center in southern Serbia. When the Kosovo Albanians arrived, bent on ethnic vengeance, the family fled, leaving behind virtually all they had—except their photo albums and their hope.

Although the during-and-after-Milosevic format in each segment grows tiresome, Seirestad’s educated eye sees all that’s important, and her compassionate heart beats in tandem with some poorly understood, deeply afflicted people.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 2006
ISBN: 0-465-07602-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2006




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