SARAJEVO, EXODUS OF A CITY by Dzevad Karahasan


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 This firsthand account of the war in Bosnia is made all the more compelling by the tone, at once lyrical and detached, taken by its author. Karahasan concentrates on the city of Sarajevo and the tragedy that such a cosmopolitan, multicultural city should be forced to disband, its vibrant subcultures trickling out under pressure of Serbian guns. As dean of the Academy of Theatrical Arts at the University of Sarajevo, the author experienced the siege and shelling of his city. Yet he has chosen not to write a conventional memoir of the horrors of war. In fact, throughout this book (his first available in English), he writes about the futility of offering conventional witness and the inability or unwillingness of the West to understand or pay attention to the suffering of Bosnia. Instead, he analyzes the city itself, ``enclosed and isolated from the world, so to speak, cut off from everything external and turned wholly toward itself.'' He sees the city's layout and all of its constituent elements--architecture, demographics, even cuisine--as a series of tensions between openness and closure, an interplay of opposition and reflection, of internal and external. He also offers an impassioned essay on the ``misuse'' of literature to promote racial hatred and fuel the atrocities such as those committed against the Bosnian people. But the book is, predictably, most compelling when it shows the people of Sarajevo trying to maintain some shred of normalcy while the city is vivisected by the Serbs. Karahasan coolly reports on how his theater students react to the disruption of their studies, how he is prevented from attending a founding meeting of the Bosnian PEN Center. The book closes with a moving exchange of letters between Karahasan, who is in exile in Austria, and his wife in Sarajevo, followed by a typically incisive essay by Slavenka Drakuli (The Balkan Express), comparing Karahasan's tone to that of Primo Levi in Survival in Auschwitz. An excellent addition to the growing shelf of books on the ravaging of Bosnia.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 1-56836-057-6
Page count: 112pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1994


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