An Irish town is touched by the war crimes in Sarajevo when an outsider sleeps with a local woman and she's driven by shame and brutality into exile.
Wearing a long dark coat and white gloves, the mysterious Vladimir Dragan arrives in Cloonoila, a backwater of western Ireland, sometime after 2012. He says he’s from Montenegro and asserts that there are links between Ireland and the Balkans. He soon sets up shop as an alternative healer and sex therapist. For 40-year-old Fidelma, who's suffered two failed pregnancies and no longer expects much from her older husband, Vlad may be a last chance. She and the rest of Cloonoila don’t know he's a wanted war criminal based on Radovan Karadzic, the man behind the siege of Sarajevo, where 11,541 red chairs were set out to commemorate the siege’s victims in 2012, including 643 of the title’s little red chairs for children killed. When men pursuing Vlad brutally abort Fidelma’s new pregnancy, she chooses exile in London, joining the streams of refugees moving all over Europe, the unending diaspora fueled by war, fundamentalism, hatred. Some are among the half-dozen nationalities of the staff at Cloonoila’s hotel who trade personal stories of displacement on a veranda after midnight. Fidelma also will hear refugees’ tales in a makeshift London shelter run by a Sarajevo survivor where “the flotsam of the world” gather to share their narratives. As O’Brien (The Love Object, 2015, etc.) brought the larger world to Cloonoila through Vlad, she ends by giving her West Country woman a seat at Vlad’s war-crimes trial.
O’Brien’s writing in this rich, wrenching book can be both lyrical and hard-edged, which suits a world where pain shared or a tincture of kindness can help ease the passage from losses.