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September Books 16) Zlata's Diary

16) Zlata's Diary: a child's life in Sarajevo, by Zlata Filipović

This is the diary of a bright eleven-year-old, Zlata Filipović, whose relatively normal life growing up in Sarajevo was suddenly and abruptly disrupted by the outbreak of war in April 1992; her daily life shifts suddenly from worrying about school and partying with friends and family, to hiding from snipers and artillery fire in her home and waiting to hear which of her friends has been killed. For those of us who deal with international affairs on a daily basis, it's a pretty good reminder that conflict is not really about the political leaders whose childishness Zlata excoriates; it is about ordinary people whose lives suddenly become hell because of evil decisions made by evil men.

Zlata comes across as a perceptive child, and it is interesting how her interpretation of the conflict shifts from essentially reflecting the Sarajevo consensus to more bitter and wiser invective against everyone responsible for the situation. But this is also a story whose telling in itself changes the teller: by the middle of the book, her diary-keeping has made her a celebrity; by the end (December 1993), she is being evacuated from Sarajevo with her family at the personal instructons of the French Minister of Defence.

But she doesn't let it go to her head. Comparisons with Anne Frank by external commentators are inevitable; Zlata just remarks that she hopes not to suffer the same fate. Even after the outside world "discovers" her, she still writes about family gossip as unselfconsciously as she did before the war started.

I've been a bit disingenuous in writing this so far, because I did not get to know the author through reading this book. I first encountered Zlata Filipović as the bright and efficient intern in ICG's Paris office in 2002, before the penny dropped for me that I had actually heard of her for other reasons. She lives in Dublin these days, and has followed through on the instincts recorded in her diary to build a career in peace-building and international relations. If you happen to see this via your Facebook feed or by other means, Zlata, well done!


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 22nd, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
I read the diary years ago but hadn't the foggiest what happened after. This is great to hear.
Sep. 22nd, 2008 11:35 pm (UTC)
I just saw this book because I was compiling a list (on Amazon) of the most memorable books of my life and I looked for Peter Maass's Love They Neighbour, a Story of War. Amazon thought, book about the war in Bosnia, hey, here's another!
I actually wondered if you had read the Maass and what you thought about it. I colored my perception of the war in Bosnia at the time.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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