Last week, if you checked in here you found a lovely piece by my guest blogger, Elaine Stock. As I noted “Your Inspirations” will run twice a month (1st and 3rd Mondays) and will feature thoughts and inspirations from guests around the web and beyond. I hope you will join me on March 19th for a visit from Mrs. Bongle, whose post about tea and writing inspire me to use language more effectively and gracefully.
Today’s feature revolves around a different style of inspiration. Books! Or in this case, book reviews…. As part of my trying to offer a semi-consistent schedule here at the Garden of Delights and to track the progress of my Bookmarks Challenge, I will be alternating book reviews with Your Inspirations (2nd and 4th Mondays).
And for the first installment:
Love Thy Neighbor A personal account of Peter Maass’s experiences as a war correspondent in the Balkans during early 1990s
It’s a catchy title Love They Neighbor: A Story of War, and Maass uses it well, more as admonishment than anything else. Any story that highlights the tragedy of war and the politics that perpetuate such suffering can quickly fade into what Maass himself refers to as “warporn”, and occasionally a section of the novel pushes that barrier between informative and expressively pornographic. More so at the beginning of the book where Maass is himself reliving the intensity of the things he saw in Bosnia and the causes of his determination to become a journalist there. But most often, we are drawn into the human experience that made this conflict. We see the victims as people with dreams and aspirations as real as our own.
And through Maass’s careful commentary, we see the aggressors in the same compassionate light.
At times Love Thy Neighbor almost pains the readers as much as it informs. The grief seems so inevitable when read in the beginning of the book, but Maass toys with his readers delicately, introducing historical instances of violence in the Balkans, stories of the extreme cruelty that has erupted in the region over the past 400 years. Yet, in the same pages, he speaks of the many years of peace and of the multicultural paradise that had once been Yugoslavia, an in particular the city of Sarajevo.
As a reader I could not question his words from experience here. My one chance to go travel behind the Iron Curtain before it fell was foolishly squandered in chasing boys and avoiding schoolwork. As rebellion was slowly fomenting in the East, it was being enacted with even less focus or sense on my own life. But unlike the chaos that was about to rip apart the lives of hundreds of thousands, mine could be contained through introspection and patience.
Not so for the people of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. Not in 1992…
I confess I do not like (or agree) with all the political observations that Maass makes in his book. Granted, we both have very skewed perceptions of the conflict and the external circumstances. And even more important for the reader, I am neither a historian nor a political scientist (positions that would allow me to make an educated opinion on why people can be convinced to kill a friend, a neighbor, even a complete stranger just by the manipulation of others).
But my distance has some virtue as well. I also was not as directly affected by the pain and suffering of good people and friends. Unlike Maass, I cannot make accusations of insensitivity based on political hopes being squandered because the President didn’t stop Serbia from invading and destroying the “safe zones” of Bosnia. Maass blamed Clinton, but he didn’t blame Bush Sr. equally for not seeing the stirrings of excessive nationalism being allowed free rein. He blamed the Labour Party in England, the French, the appeasers as he calls them…
He’s right… at least as someone who experienced so much of the diplomatic “we’re a peaceful people” stabs from various figures in Serbia and even Croatia can be. Maass daily saw the homes of doctors and architects, of farmers and school teachers being destroyed; he witnessed interment camps where Bosnian Muslims were turned from human beings into skeletons…
Maass, for a few years, lived where Bosnian Muslims were made aware they were Muslims and not Bosnians. … Where the seeds of the present day Sharia law in the Balkans, and the increased strife in the world between Muslims and Christians and Jews may not have been sown, but were certainly fertilized on the blood of the innocent and peacefully integrated. Maass saw that pain, and he knew too many of those people as people. He could not afford to be unbiased.
And sadly, I can.
It’s interesting to note that just after I finished the book, I watched a few Castle episodes this weekend and had similar thoughts to Maass’s closing chapter on how quickly Yugoslavia fell from peace into hell on earth. Even if you don’t like the show, the (two-part) episodes “Pandora” and “Linchpin” are worth watching… For those of you who say “It would never happen here”. Watch it.
And, while it is not a work of “Great Literature” and it is clear that the author has forfeited his journalistic neutrality with joyous delight, Love Thy Neighbor was a wonderful book. There is enough eloquence and despair and love, to stir the coldest hearts. But read it with both open eyes and an open heart.