A novel-within-a-novel whose author chooses a Sarajevo woman glimpsed on a TV newsreel as a way of exorcising her
own long-suppressed demons.
“Why Bosnia?” Anne Raynard’s friends all ask about the setting of her new novel. After all, she’s never even visited the
place, and her harrowing account of Bosnia’s descent from civilization to savagery has to compete with dozens of equally
harrowing novels and factual accounts. These well-meaning friends and critics, some of whom voice uncomfortably apt
reservations, don’t know that Anne is using Ana Gusic, her alter ego, to project her own grief and rage—about her husband’s hellish memories of Vietnam, her father’s Alzheimer’s, her own brush with murderous violence a generation ago, and her need,
despite her bookish Cambridge lifestyle, to give voice to her enduring feelings of guilt, revulsion, and terror. In drawing such
insistent parallels between an American writer sheltered by wealth and safety and a Sarajevo Muslim poet watching her country
torn asunder, first-novelist Ireland risks charges of presumption, inflation, and self-absorption; after all, what in Anne’s life can
possibly equip her to enter into Ana’s nightmare? But Ireland proves remarkably agile and sensitive in disarming these criticisms
by focusing for so long on the telltale social amenities slipping away one by one—the lack of pressed clothing, the loss of trees
to fuel for freezing neighbors, the paintings of sun and moon that replace the glass in Ana’s shuttered windows, the fruitless
search for insulin for her diabetic son, the bickering over the water supplies of the latest casualties—that by the time she gets
to the newsreel horrors, they seem chillingly logical next steps in the degradation of Ana and her homeland.
Even Ireland’s division of her unsettling evocation into a brief “beginning” and a long “middle” acknowledges that stories
like Ana’s, and Anne’s, can have no end.