Portraits of Sarajevo

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Despite the extensive television coverage, it is difficult for outsiders to appreciate the horrors of the siege of Sarajevo. The lives of the city’s 380,000 inhabitants have been disrupted beyond comprehension by the brutal ethnic conflict that has divided the city and isolated its citizens from the outside world. Bosnian journalist Zlatko Dizdarevic has used the techniques of “new journalism” to present unforgettable vignettes of forty-nine ordinary people in an unreal situation. Told in their own words, their stories reveal the courage and solidarity born of war.

PORTRAITS OF SARAJEVO presents a gallery of unlikely heroes, ordinary people going about their daily business. There is Mile Plakalovic, a Serbian taxi driver who risked his life to rescue the wounded and drive them to the hospital. For love of beauty, film technician Refik Besirevic bought an expensive vase after his family’s apartment was destroyed. Brigadier General Jovan Divjak defected from the Yugoslav People’s Army early in the war in order to aid the Bosnian cause. Radio announcer “Silly Kika” visited hospitals every day to cheer up the children. Maria Tolj was forced to burn her books in order to keep her apartment warm. Some portraits are heart-rending, such as the story of a six-year-old boy in the hospital who wrote to Santa Claus to ask for new limbs for himself and his friends.

Editor of the daily newspaper OSLOBODENJE, Zlatko Dizdarevic has included stories of artists, filmmakers, poets, musicians, doctors, and professors who have struggled to preserve the cultural tolerance of the old Sarajevo in the face of ethnic hatred. More than anecdotes, these are stories of grace and dignity in the face of suffering and loss. PORTRAITS OF SARAJEVO is a remarkable chronicle of the struggle of human decency against the powers of hatred and terror.