A mother and daughter with a strained relationship cope with the legacy of horrific violence.
Zara is the daughter of an interfaith marriage between her mostly secular parents: a Bosnian Muslim mother and white Catholic father. She is an ordinary American girl in many ways despite her fraught relationship with her traumatized mother—Zara knows that Nadja was a refugee, but her mother’s emotional distance has stopped her from learning the details of her past. An ISIS bombing at a Rhode Island farmers market leaves Zara wounded and her mother comatose but also opens up the path for Zara to finally understand her mother’s story. At the hospital she develops a close friendship with a spiritually seeking, biracial (Haitian and Irish) boy who is there visiting his grandmother. Interwoven chapters tell the story of Nadja in 1990s Bosnia, where she was an equally ordinary adolescent, treasuring mix tapes from her Serbian boyfriend. But the Bosnian War changes everything, and Nadja finds herself a survivor of genocide, having experienced crimes so horrific she’s blocked them out. Ethnic and religious conflict among modern Europeans contrasts sharply with racist Islamophobia in Zara’s contemporary New England. The search for faith and meaning pervades the story, but, disappointingly, the narrative too often filters spirituality through Western and Christian lenses. The long, complex history of the South Slavs is also overly simplified.
Despite its shortcomings, this important and timely novel is a painful, lovely exploration of mending a mother-daughter relationship. (author’s note, bibliography, glossary) (Fiction. 13-17)