A literary debut that connects the Bosnian civil war with the Indian Ocean tsunami, two horrific disasters a decade apart.
Human rights researcher Anya Teal is trying to hunt down a man named Kemal Lekic 10 years after the 1990s war. She looks at the photo in the obituary that praises him as a war hero and thinks he's "handsome enough she had to remind herself of what he had done," deeds that early on the reader must guess at. He’d been a brigade commander from Stovnik in Bosnia, and he’d been presumed killed in a heavy shelling. No one could find his body, and he was “buried” in an empty casket in 1995. Kemal's best friend, Marko Novak, considers him to be “the hero who died…the only one whose life made any sense of the war.” But Anya follows plausible rumors that he survived and is living in Thailand in 2004. Conveniently, her old flame William Howell is an English teacher in Bangkok, and she hopes they can get together again. Anya has studied Bosnia and written a dissertation called “Rape as a Weapon of War,” and she wonders if Kemal was one of the rapists. Scenes move back and forth from postwar Bosnia to pre- and post-tsunami Thailand; just before the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and massive “concertina of energy” in the ocean, Anya says to William in Kao Lak: “I love that we can hear the sea.” Back in Bosnia, Marko thinks, “I’ve lost my childhood, have you seen it anywhere?” That sums up the sense of pointless loss that so many survivors of the Bosnian War must have felt. Little seems to happen in the story’s early stages, and the pace overall does not leave the reader breathless. And readers may wonder what a five-page chapter about skateboarding is doing just before the book’s end, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
Savill’s first novel shows his deep compassion for and understanding of two earth-shattering events. Fans of British author William Boyd, take note.