From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Young women served as snipers for both Bosnian and Serbian forces during the siege of Sarajevo; Simon, a prize-winning correspondent and NPR Weekend Edition
host, interviewed one of them and has masterfully imagined her life. The book begins with half-Muslim Irena, 17, perched on a rooftop, wearing a black ski mask, sighting down a rifle and listening to a sneering Serbian propagandist on the radio ("The Yanks send you food Americans wouldn't give to their dogs") before she pulls the trigger. Simon then flashes back to the spring of 1992, when Irena, her parents and her parrot, Pretty Bird, must flee their home on the mostly Serb side of the city. When they make it (barely) to her grandmother's apartment, they find her slain on the staircase. Simon's account of the family's refugee life—sans water, electricity and supplies, they eat snail-and-grass soup—is full of brilliant details ranging from the comic to the heartbreaking. When a former assistant principal spots Irena, once a high school basketball star, he offers her a job that quickly has her recruited, indoctrinated and trained in deception and weaponry. That's when the action really begins to move along. Pretty Bird is released for mercy's sake, flies to his old home and is caught by Amela—a Christian and Irena's former classmate and teammate—who concocts a devious and difficult plan to return him to her friend. A deeply felt, boldly told story and clean, forceful prose distinguish this striking first novel.
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Irena Zaric, a high-school basketball star in Sarajevo, is more preoccupied with game strategy and an affair with her coach than with her Muslim ethnicity. But when the Bosnian Serbs begin their campaign of ethnic cleansing, Irena and her parents find themselves among throngs of Muslims brutalized and driven from their homes. They take refuge in her grandmother's apartment and begin a regime for survival that has the father digging ditches for the military. Irena brings home beer and cigarettes from an ersatz job in a brewery that provides cover for a team of snipers led by Tedic, a Muslim with a knack for spotting talent he can use. Irena becomes disturbingly good at her task, growing a veneer of cynicism even as she pores over outdated Western magazines for fashion news and the latest antics of Madonna and Michael Jackson. Simon, who has covered the siege of Sarajevo for NPR, puts the events in a war-torn land into human perspective with memorable characters struggling with issues of ethnicity, survival, friendship, and betrayal. Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved