The British-born founder of an international nonprofit organization traces his activism in this debut memoir.
Wilson may have been born in Britain, but it wasn’t long before he had an urge to discover the world. At age 13, he was sent to live at a school where he became a social outcast with the nickname “Commie Wilson.” One of his only two school friends mentioned that his father lived in Argentina, so at 17, Wilson announced to his parents that he would be leaving to work there. Coming of age in South America (as well as losing his virginity), the peripatetic Wilson then returned to England only to depart again for a 10-day holiday on an island in Yugoslavia, where he met Renata, the girl who would become his wife. The author had his initial real awakening to the harsh reality of the world when he first visited Zagreb to meet Renata’s family. In 1968, when he returned to Zagreb to marry, it was a time of war in Yugoslavia. Wilson’s connection to that country continued; he ended up representing a Croatian painter and traveling back from London to Zagreb, where he was directly exposed to the Bosnian War. This turning point in Wilson’s life led to the co-founding of War Child, a nonprofit organization originally started to call attention to the plight of Bosnian children. It also ended his first marriage because “I preferred to be in a war zone rather than be at home with her.” Through a series of high-profile, celebrity-laden fundraisers, War Child continued to achieve remarkable success, but it was a charity concert by Luciano Pavarotti that indirectly led to Wilson’s next position as director of the Mostar Music Centre in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina. With a keen eye for detail, the author recounts his diverse experiences in the embattled region, including encountering Bosnian refugees (“I felt fear for myself and sorrow for the plight of these people….They could have been refugees in any war: suitcases tied with string, a live animal if they were lucky”). His shared heart-wrenching observations are clearly a highlight of this richly textured, moving work. The book ends with a different voice in a chapter by Wilson’s second wife, Anne, who writes poignantly about her first trip to Mostar.
Raw and compelling; a story well told of a vital and varied life in a war-torn region.