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S.: A Novel about the Balkans (1999)

de Slavenka Drakulic

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This is a story of hope and survival amidst the Balkan tragedy. S., a teacher in a Bosnian village, is 29 when war breaks out. One day a young Serbian soldier walks into her kitchen and tells her to pack her bag. She is taken to a concentration camp where there is a mysterious room. She soon finds out what it's for - the Serbs systematically rape their prisoners there. After some months S. finds out she is pregnant. She's devastated and resolves to have the baby aborted. However, when she's finally released it's too late and she when she's evacuated to Sweden she gives birth to the child. S. changes her mind about giving it up for adoption: she realises that it's not the child's fault that it was conceived in violence and that out of the act some good - this new life - can still come.… (més)
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4.5 stars.
Based on real-life testimonies of women held in Bosnian death camps, this single testimonial is unflinching in its "authenticity."
--Dedi Felman

In the book opens, " S.," the protagonist of the story, has just had a baby who is the product of a gang rape. She hates this baby.
"She feels nothing but animosity toward this creature. The first thought that came to her mind when she realized that she was pregnant was death. This child was condemned to death from the start. It lived only because by that time it was already too late for an abortion. She had to carry through her pregnancy to the bitter end, with a swelling stomach that deformed her beyond recognition and made her hate her own body."

S. is filling in for a friend of hers, a teacher on maternity leave, in a little village in bosnia. She and her parents are from Sarajevo. The Serb army swarms into her town, and kidnap all the occupants. The women and children are put on a bus for they do not know where. They end up in a prisoner camp.
Prison conditions here are horrific enough, but after a few weeks S. is taken to the "women's room," where the prettiest and youngest women and girls are kept, to be at the service of soldiers. They never know when they're going to be taken out of their room and gangraped, sometimes tortured. Sometimes they die, sometimes they disappear.
But months into her stay, the Captain of the camp has her brought before him. This is where S. gets lucky. He wants her companionship and her service in bed, but she gets to enjoy Real meals in his quarters, and the luxury of being able to take baths and showers.
"The advantage of being with the Captain becomes more and more obvious to her with each passing day. To survive. To sip wine, eat, sleep in clean sheets, to be safe. The Captain may be her chance of survival. She does not even contemplate freedom, that naive she is not. She simply wants to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity to improve her situation. At this moment, she is not even asking herself whether she is right; good and bad make little sense when it comes to camp life. What is useful to you is good, what is of no use or of direct harm to someone else is bad. S. is certain that her actions are not hurting anyone."

Another woman in the camp, a character named E., kills herself after her daughter is killed by being gangraped. Shortly after S. came to the prison camp, her little box containing her jewelry went missing. Not knowing who stole it, she complained to E. about it being stolen.
The morning of their liberation from the camp, E. is found dead by her own hand. She leaves a note behind for S., asking for her forgiveness for taking her jewelry. She used it to bribe the soldiers to leave her daughter alone.
"... Of course S. would have given her the gold jewelry, if only she had told her, had explained why. Remembering how bitter she was when she discovered the theft, she is now overwhelmed by embarrassment at her own selfishness. How shortsighted she had been. When she had bemoaned the theft, E. had looked down and S., well she remembers, had taken that as a sign of indifference on E.'s part, as a sign that she had reconciled herself to fate. If only E. had given S. some indication, perhaps it would have made it easier for them both. Perhaps they could have helped each other. these thoughts run through as S.'s mind as she sits on the bed next to the dead E."

S. travels to Sweden, where she is granted refugee status.
"S. knows that she is now a refugee but she still does not know what that means exactly. How many other people's shoes and coats, how much more waiting. She still does not know that this waiting is what keeps her going, but there is no other thread connecting the moments and holding them together than this waiting for lunch, for dinner, for their documents, for approval, for news of their families, for the bus, for their departure, for their return. That is why even this camp, while not surrounded by barbed wire, is terrible. They are all waiting for something and that is what their life consists of. A refugee is someone who has been expelled from somewhere but does not go anywhere because they have nowhere to go. It feels that she is now actually existing between two places, in a state of anticipation, in transit between the one and the other. Neither of these places is home. S. is only now becoming accustomed to the fact that this feeling of the transitory is her new situation."

One of the workers helping the refugees in sweden, turns out to be a person that s went to school with. She lived in the same building that S. and her sister and parents lived in in Sarajevo, so now she tells S. some of what happened in the bombing of Sarajevo.
"F. tells her with a smile: imagine, nobody in our building fell ill, even when temperatures dropped to minus 10! Cold and hunger are not the hardest things to bear. The worst thing is that there is no water in the bathroom, then the whole apartment stinks. A stench from which there is no escape, that is the most humiliating thing. S. does not know what to say. She laughs, as if she finds the comment about the bathroom funny, as if one can laugh at such suffering. She remembers the unbearable stench of burning corpses in the wheelie bin. She would like to tell F. a bit about her own experience of humiliation, about the types and degrees of humiliation in the camp, but she abandons the idea. Horrors should not, cannot be compared. They should not even be described. There is little hope that anyone will understand them anyway."

This book is very difficult to read. But it's a very important book, and I commend the author for what must have been a very difficult book to write. ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
Im Frühjahr 1992 wird die Lehrerin S. in der Provinz vom Bosnien-Krieg überrascht, als serbische Truppen ihr Dorf besetzen und dessen Einwohner in ein Lager deportieren. Im Verlauf der folgenden Monate erlebt S. die von der serbischen Besatzungsmacht begangenen Kriegsverbrechen am eigenen Leib. Nachdem sie nach einem Gefangenenaustausch zunächst in ein kroatisches Durchgangslager und schließlich als Flüchtling nach Schweden gelangt, muß S. feststellen, dass sie in Folge der zahlreichen Massenvergewaltigungen schwanger ist.

Drakulić' Roman thematisiert die Verbrechen gegen die Menschlichkeit, welche in den Jugoslawien-Kriegen Anfang der 1990er-Jahre Europa erschütterten. Anhand des Einzelschicksals der anonymisierten Hauptperson S. schildert die Autorin die abscheulichsten Greuel. Drakulić' schont dabei den Leser nicht: Ihr Werk enthält detailierte Beschreibungen sexueller Gewalt, sadistischer Folterungen und brutalem Massenmord. Zentrales Motiv sind die ethnisch-motivierten Massenvergewaltigungen und deren psychische Aufarbeitung durch die Opfer. ( )
  schmechi | Jan 4, 2021 |
Maybe it's because I've read several books about war back-to-back, but now after finishing the last pages of this story, I am completely drained. I know that this book is a novel so the story is fiction. Yet it is not fiction. What happened to S. in this novel did happen to Muslim women during the war in Bosnia. The way the author writes about S., her imprisonment, and her physical and psychological trauma, it is impossible to believe that she was not a real person and that she did not fully experience everything in this story.

The story is of S., a young woman who is a victim of rape and other brutality during the Bosnian war. Oddly, both she and all of the characters in this novel are referred to only by the first initial of their names. The story is so bleak and depressing that it's almost a relief not to know the real name of the main character as well as the others in the novel. This technique of writing emphasizes the loss of humanity and individuality experienced by many people who suffer deep trauma during wartime. This horrifying exploration of one aspect of war should be read by everyone if only to try to understand more of what wartime victims experience but can no longer express. ( )
  SqueakyChu | Oct 18, 2015 |
When your country is at war with another, or perhaps many others, you are aware of the risk to human life. You know soldiers will die, you know that some of these may be people you know or even your loved ones. But, though the civilians at home worry about those who are away fighting for their country, they rarely see themselves as part of the war. The threat to them seems far away, almost unreal. So when the occupying forces marched into the Bosnian village where S. lived, her immediate reaction is not of panic. She is mildly annoyed for having been woken up, but she still has faith in the human capacity for reason and she believes that if she surrenders her jewellry and valuables without making a fuss, then no one will do her any harm. In other words, she is naive.

The civilians are captured and taken away to work camps, one for men and one for women. But deep within the female camp is the room that every prisoner dreads - the women's room. A room where women become objects to be used by the soldiers, a room of pain and despair where all hope dies and a person is forced to become empty. Being empty in your mind, abandoning your body at will, this is the only way to survive. Drakulic shows the extent of human depravity in one of the most disturbing accounts of captivity during wartime. Her use of the first letter in place of the women's names is important in understanding the ability to dehumanize the enemy, they become things and not people. It is repulsive, scary and sad.

But the author, in my opinion, never slips over into the gratuitous because her focus is on S.'s inner turmoil. It is not just about the sexual abuse, the beatings and cruelty, it's about the effect this has on the victims, how they retreat inside themselves and the lengths they go to in order to keep their sanity in a world gone mad. Not only that, but she even looks at what it's like to be a soldier blindly following orders, dehumanizing yourself to find the ability to commit atrocities during war. It's easy to have enemies and it's easy to hate, but what does it take to make you someone who can torture another human being? What must they become in your mind? What must you become?

When showing the crimes men commit towards women, when showing a group of male soldiers laughing at a woman's pain, it becomes so easy to delve into misandry. You hate the Serbian soldiers, you hate the things they do to the women. But this is only partly a gender issue. Drakulic wants to tell the many untold stories of women during the Bosnian war (there are an estimated 60,000 rape victims), she wants us to know about the suffering they faced because of their gender. But, for the author, humanity has one common enemy regardless of your race, religion or gender... and that is war. War makes us all something other than human, it allows those with the power to become monstrous and it allows those without it to be seen as vermin.

Though the author chose to focus on the Bosnian war and particularly the way women were treated during this war, the backbone of this story is universally applicable. She expertly tells a story about some of the vilest, most horrific things that can happen to a human being, she captures humanity at it's best and worst, showing exactly what we are capable of - both the good and the bad. ( )
1 vota emleemay | Mar 30, 2013 |
This is probably the most harrowing book I've read this year, but one that I found hard to put down, so eager was I to reach the light at the end of the tunnel.

It tells the story of S., a Bosnian schoolteacher, taken one day in the summer of 1992 from her village to a Serbian prison camp. Before long, she is moved to the "women's room", where a group of women prisoners are placed at the mercy of the Serb soldiers' "needs". Since the novel begins with S. looking back on her horrific and somehow unreal experiences, we know that she is, in some sense, one of the "lucky" ones, and yet it is a far from conventional definition of "lucky". I read several of the pages with my hand over my mouth in horror, but the prose is spare and matter-of-fact, reflecting the fact that rape, murder, torture and humiliation had become normality in the context of the war in Yugoslavia.

This is a far from pleasant read, but it is an extremely important reminder of how easily we can descend into inhumanity and that we must guard against it at all costs.
  Rebeki | Jun 15, 2010 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 9 (següent | mostra-les totes)
Slavenka Draculic hat ein hochpolitisches Buch geschrieben und nennt auch die Parteien beim Namen: es sind die Serben, die die Bosnier erniedrigen und vertreiben. Es geht aber nicht darum, die Spirale des Hasses weiterzudrehen. Das Buch zeigt das Gesicht des Krieges und die grauenhafte Logik des Rassismus in ihrer Essenz. Wo immer zwischen "richtigem" und "falschem" Blut unterschieden wird, verlieren Täter wie Opfer die Fähigkeit zum Mitgefühl und damit ihre Menschlichkeit.
 

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Slavenka Drakulicautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
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It is an intense pleasure, physical, inexpressible, to be at home, among friendly people and to have so many things to recount: but I cannot help noticing that my listeners do not follow me. In fact, they are completely indifferent: they speak confusedly of other things among themselves, as if I was not there. My sister looks at me, gets up and goes away without a word.

PRIMO LEVI, If This is a Man
And quite unconsciously, perhaps precisely because of the exaggerated sense of fear, I felt at times as if this was not me at all, as if it was happening to somebody else, and everything I ahd seen was actually part of some other, unreal world.

Grlić, Eva Memoirs
A human being survives by his ability to forget. VARLAM SHALAMOV, Kolyma Tales
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The child is lying naked in his cot.
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The moment the armed men appeared in their village, each one of them had ceased to be a person. Now they are even less so, they have been reduced to a collection of similar beings of the female gender, of the same blood.
...perhaps at dark moments of their lives people need to remember the good times, as if their lives had been drenched in sunlight. Perhaps that is a good thing.
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This is a story of hope and survival amidst the Balkan tragedy. S., a teacher in a Bosnian village, is 29 when war breaks out. One day a young Serbian soldier walks into her kitchen and tells her to pack her bag. She is taken to a concentration camp where there is a mysterious room. She soon finds out what it's for - the Serbs systematically rape their prisoners there. After some months S. finds out she is pregnant. She's devastated and resolves to have the baby aborted. However, when she's finally released it's too late and she when she's evacuated to Sweden she gives birth to the child. S. changes her mind about giving it up for adoption: she realises that it's not the child's fault that it was conceived in violence and that out of the act some good - this new life - can still come.

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