A British psychiatrist returning to the once-beleaguered Drina Valley within Bosnia and Herzegovina finds young war victims surprisingly adaptive and thriving.
In her multicase study of traumatized children then and now, Jones makes some startling and potentially controversial conclusions about children of war. The author worked in humanitarian aid and child psychiatry in the Balkans from 1991 to 1995, through four years of war and siege in Bosnia, and returned intermittently over the subsequent years to the towns of Foca and Gorazde to re-interview her charges and record updates. The two towns were made up of various percentages of Serbs, Croats and Muslims. As the war spread, the citizens were terrorized by paramilitary groups bent on “ethnic cleansing,” forcibly expelling people, displacing families, and torturing and killing suspected rivals. The Dayton Agreement of December 1995 arranged an uneasy truce, stipulating the safe return of people to their homes despite the ethnic mishmash and suspicion and indicting some of the war criminals. Jones concentrates on eight children, between 8 and adolescence, she first met in 1998 and records their experiences of displacement, violence and terror during the war years. Curiously, few had any feelings of animosity toward the other ethnic groups before the war, living closely among them in communities, but they were often indoctrinated by adults and the ongoing strife to hate the other side and justify their ill treatment of displaced neighbors. Jones tracks the children’s progress, finding that the ones who didn’t ask too many questions were the ones who thrived. Avoidance and distancing allowed the children to protect themselves emotionally.
Jones’ careful, sensitive study offers a deeply intimate look into the emotional makeup of children of war.