We may as well cut straight to the point; I did not, or could not enjoy Girl at War. If you’re looking for an accurate portrayal of war, you should look elsewhere. Girl at War, the debut novel by Sara Nović is littered with so many historical inaccuracies that it is extremely difficult to take seriously as a body of work. Throw in the awkward dialogue, half-baked character development, incohesive flash-forward and flash-back structure and the author’s seeming ignorance as to the difference between Serbia and Bosnia and you have a recipe for a novel that left me with a bitter aftertaste.
A quick bit of exposition before I lambaste further: It is the summer of 1991 and we are in Zagreb when civil war breaks out; Ana Jurić, our ten year old protagonist gives an account of her experience of the conflict. Things soon take a tragic personal turn for Ana; she becomes a child soldier for a short period, before being sent to America for adoption. The novel is split into chapters of Ana telling events as a child, with flash-forward chapters from Ana as a twenty year old trying to come to terms with all that she witnessed and was subjected to.
Now, I’m not particularly crash hot on the finer details of the Bosnian-Croat conflict. Yes, I know who Slobodan Milošević was and I have a basic understanding of what the conflict and subsequent genocide was about – and even with my limited knowledge I knew that a lot of the details in this book were so glaringly inaccurate as to be laughable. Zagreb, from where the fictional character of Ana Jurić hails, was never subject to aerial bombardment, water shortages or food rationing. Zagreb being quite some distance from Croatia’s eastern borders with Serbia and Bosnia (the frontlines of this particular conflict), was relatively safe throughout the war. I do realise that this is a work of fiction and not a retelling of true events, but lack of evidentially basic geographical knowledge throughout was a definite point of contention for me.
Mercifully, it’s a quick read – I’m not sure whether this was due to me speeding through it as I wanted to get this badly written and historically inaccurate novel finished as soon as possible, or if it was just because it is very basically written, and therefore an easy read. I can’t really be bothered to write anything else about this novel, much like Nović seemingly couldn’t be bothered to conduct basic research and produce a factually authentic piece of work.