I don’t remember where I first heard of Sara Nović’s Girl At War, but it’s been generating some quiet buzz since its publication this last May. I was intrigued by the premise, and I’ve been wondering what fiction related to the Yugoslavian civil wars would be like, so I thought I would give this novel a try. I certainly hope that Nović keeps on writing—this debut novel is excellent.
Girl At War takes place at two different junctions in Ana Jurić’s life: her life in 1991, when she is ten, rambunctious, and innocent; and her life in 2001, when she has emigrated to America and is unmoored from almost everything of her previous life. The novel switches between these two time periods, when Ana’s family is torn apart by civil war, and when it is again torn apart by 9/11 and a need to revisit the past. This novel is gritty, unapologetically violent, and evocative of the kinds of violence that can rip apart the soul.
I don’t want to give anything away about this book, because it is just that good. War is terrible, and sugarcoating it minimizes the kinds of effects it has on the individual. It’s hard to read about, but war is hard to live through and even more difficult to survive. That’s the point Nović makes, and does so effectively throughout the novel. The time switch helps create suspense in the plot, as well as foreshadowing, to engage the reader’s interest. Nović’s writing style is clear and engaging, and her focus is unflinching. I really do think she has the talent to become one of this generation’s promising young writers. I’m eager to see what she can do next.