Debut author Sullivan offers an unconventional novel about a shattered female war correspondent.
Sarajevo-native Jasna dreams of being a journalist, but she’s as surprised as her fellow countrymen when war breaks out in Bosnia. The fragmented narrative—jumping back and forth from 2010 to 1992 and various points in between—depicts Jasna first as a naive young woman, then as a stunned correspondent and ultimately as an exile in Singapore and the United States. Along the way, she has an ill-fated romance with a humanitarian named Mark, who’s even more traumatized by his experiences in conflict zones. In a dreamy, slightly dazed tone, Jasna struggles to make sense of her war-torn life at home, living as an exile in a failing relationship with Mark. Unfortunately, the nonchronological narrative also makes it difficult to follow events. The reader finds out bits and pieces of Jasna’s life, especially in the epistolary sections of the novel, which contain her letters to Bosnian friends while she lives in exile. There are moving details, too, such as her changed eating habits—“survivor’s bulimia” and a loathing of rich food because she’s ashamed that her relatives still live in hunger—or her growing fondness for colorful, floral shirts that feel true to a refugee experience. Meeting a new man and his adopted Bosnian son help move the novel forward, yet it’s challenging to follow the back and forth between her past and present-day selves. In the present-day chapters, Jasna obsesses over a Sarajevan mural of a knight and a lady; in unraveling the mural, the novel takes a turn for the supernatural.
The striking premise, characters and setting are undermined by a disjointed narrative.