A spy thriller set in 1980s America and the Scottish Highlands
Novel set in Croatia plus the author’s top ten books set there.
25th July 2016
The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe, novel set in Croatia.
1979 – 1995 is a period in Balkan history that dominated the news, that lodged places like Kosovo, Krajina and Srebrenica in the world’s consciousness, whilst leaders Tudman and Milošević wrangled and fought at the expense of several nations and millions of people. A heart rending time. And it is against this background of fracturing Yugoslavia that author Annabelle Thorpe has set her novel The People We were Before.
There is a very helpful map thoughtfully included at the beginning of the book, setting the various places and countries in the context of the bigger Yugoslavia.
Miro Denković starts out as a young, carefree boy and relocates from Knin to Ljeta on the coast, where his family sets about helping other family members to run a small hotel and restaurant. He goes to school and makes two friends, one of whom has Serbian blood – increasingly unacceptable in this part of the country – and soon the boys find that the larger picture of darkening conflict is mirrored in their young lives. Dina becomes part of his world and they get married, but as the clouds of war build up they suffer a huge trauma within the family and life crumbles before their very eyes.
As a war reporter, Miro is thrown into the thick of conflict – hooking up with Nic and Marian, and even coming across his older brother Goran. Author Rosanna Ley is quoted on the front of the book, describing it as “A fascinating story told with integrity and authenticity” and I think that phrase sums up the book very well. For me the story slides quite effortlessly from one scene to another, but I found it difficult to feel really engaged – there wasn’t sufficient depth for me to really connect. For sure I felt I learned more about the war, it was a hugely complex time. The love between the Miro and Dina, the relationship issues, moved things along (although at times for me the relationship lacked flesh and blood passion) but there were times it lost momentum because the story meandered a little too much to keep me wholly captivated.
And could it really have been possible for this young man, with no training to become a top war reporter in such a short time and in such circumstances? But in a war situation reality is very different….
Overall a very readable novel.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
Over to Annabelle who shares with us her Top 10 reads for Croatia:
- Black Lamb and Grey Falcon by Rebecca West – written in 1942, still regarded as the seminal work on the Balkans; part travelogue, part memoir, part history book
- Croatia: Travels in Undiscovered Country by Tony Fabijancic – Fabijancic, a Croatian born in Canada, returns to his homeland to experience rural, traditional life and understand the massive cultural and economic changes the country is undergoing in the post-war period
- Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh by Slobodan Novak – a 100-year-old woman lies on her deathbed on the island of Rab, looked after by her nurse Mali; the book explores their relationship and the disappearance of the traditions and era the dying woman represents
- The Death of Yugoslavia by Alan Little – a really well-written, easy to understand book about the circumstances that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the war that formed six new countries
- Another Fool in the Balkans – by Tony White – White follows in the footsteps of Rebecca West, to try and get under the skin of Croatia and its surrounding countries and
- Croatian Nights – a collection of short stories set in Croatia, nine by British authors (including Ben Richards and Niall Griffiths) and nine by Croatian writers
- The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna – an English woman moves to Croatia with her children to do up a dilapidated cottage, and learns the secrets of the community she has moved to through a man she hires to help with the work
- Zagreb: Exit South by Edo Popovic – a famous work based around a group of characters living in Zagreb, trying to come to terms with their changed lives in the years after the war
- Croatia: A Nation Forged in War by Marcus Tanner – comprehensive history of the country and its role in the conflict that created it
- The Tiger’s Wife – Tea Obreht, winner of the Orange Prize, set in a fictionalised Balkan region which mirrors Obrech’s native Croatia; a doctor goes back to her homeland to discover if there is any truth behind her Grandfathers’ stories
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For more novels set in CROATIA, just click here