- Book: The People We Were Before
- Location: Croatia
- Author: Annabelle Thorpe
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.
Over on our blog, where this review first appeared, Annabelle shares some of her top books set in Croatia.