COUNTRY OF RED AZALEAS by Domnica Radulescu


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An intense friendship between two women, one Serbian and one Bosnian, withstands the war in Serbia and its aftermath.

Radulescu delivers a third novel (Black Sea Twilight, 2011, etc.) spanning the end of communism to the beginnings of the Iraq War. At age 7, Lara falls in love with her classmate Marija, who moved from Sarajevo to Belgrade. Their friendship is charmed; they devour old Hollywood movies, honey almond sweets, and stolen fruit. Marija’s Sarajevo is depicted as fantastically luscious, with “creamy white mosques” like “wedding cakes” and the scents of “red azaleas, honey, coffee, and apricots” everywhere. The story glosses over their time as radical students at the University of Belgrade, sharing an effeminate lover, until the threat of war becomes apparent and Lara meets Mark, an American scholar she quickly marries. She moves to Washington, D.C., while Marija returns to Sarajevo to work as a journalist. Lara bristles at being exoticized by Mark’s colleagues while she herself exoticizes the Tunisian professor she eventually takes as a lover while at an academic conference in France. Here, the language becomes overwrought: “The colors of Provence burned desires into my soul, and its sharp winds swept over me with inebriating flutters.” Because a long time period is covered in relatively few pages, the middle of the narrative, concerning Lara's marriage and affair, often feels thin and distant—plot points rushed through in order to return to the novel’s true subject. The story deepens when Lara plunges into a dangerous search for Marija while struggling with her identity as a Serbian and a woman who escaped, rather than confronted, the war.

At turns undercooked and syrupy, the novel’s depiction of Lara and Marija’s bond is nevertheless a moving portrait of humanity’s best overcoming humanity’s worst.

Pub Date: April 5th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4555-9042-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Twelve
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2016


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