In this novel based on true events, a young soldier fights a war with himself amid the chaos and carnage of Kosovo.
In 2001, Ragnitz was in his late 20s when he volunteered for a mission that would cause him to question all he believed as a professional soldier. A military policeman with the German Bundeswehr, Ragnitz served in Kosovo as part of a multinational peacekeeping force following the collapse of Yugoslavia. In 2001, his unit was tasked with overseeing a prison camp of suspected Albanian terrorists at Dubrava. Unarmed and with little training, Ragnitz was thrust into the role of prison guard. As tensions at Dubrava escalated, Ragnitz grew increasingly uncomfortable with the mission, which he suspected was illegal and in violation of the inmates’ rights. Vivid, graphic and unsettling, the book is a factual account of Ragnitz’s Kosovo experiences told in a novellike format. Two parallel storylines seize the reader and never let go. One tells of an individual solider grappling with “everyday insanity in the Balkans.” Kosovo is portrayed as a fractious, strife-ridden land where politics, religion and violence are hopelessly intertwined. Ragnitz was told he was guarding “suspected terrorists,” but that never seemed entirely true. He watched in shame as the detainees were suddenly transferred to a group of Americans, their fates unknown. The second storyline tells how Ragnitz’s inability to cope with the emotions festering inside him destroyed his relationship with his girlfriend, Katja. The abrupt shifts between storylines can be jarring, but the two ultimately converge in a powerful moment of release for Ragnitz. Eventually, he confided to Katja that he felt exploited by the military. One of the author’s stated aims is to tell the story of Dubrava, especially now that revelations of abuse at Guantanamo have surfaced. What Ragnitz thought was a humanitarian mission became an affront to human dignity, which reflects a major theme of the book: how quickly moral boundaries become blurred. The book’s title encapsulates the conflict—Ragnitz the soldier does his duty, but it does not sit well with Ragnitz the man.
A tense, gritty journey into postwar Kosovo, one that turns the stomach and troubles the conscience.