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S. Hardcover – January 24, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 201 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1st American Ed edition (January 24, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670890979
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670890972
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #135,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"While she was in the warehouse S. feared uncertainty. Any kind of certainty seemed preferable to her. Now she was at least rid of that fear. There was no more uncertainty. She was in a storehouse of women, in a room where female bodies were stored for the use of men."

The use of rape as a mode of warfare was one of the atrocities that made "ethnic cleansing" such a horrifying euphemism in the '90s. The number of Muslim rape victims has been hard to establish (estimates are as high as 60,000), and the depths of the damage even more difficult to comprehend. Hidden behind the newspaper accounts--the mind-numbing policy changes, drawn and redrawn borders, and fluctuating statistics--are the stories of what happened to thousands of Muslim women and how they have since dealt with their experience. In S: A Novel About the Balkans, the journalist Slavenka Drakulic uses a fictional everywoman, S., to convey the complex psychological torture of the victims of large-scale, systematic rape during the Bosnian War.

Drakulic's plain, graphic prose is starkly effective; not surprisingly, her book is most powerful in the passages detailing the women's treatment by the cadres of Serbian soldiers. But S. is not just a passive victim: even in such conditions, there are moral choices that must be made and consequences to one's actions. S. discovers this through her "arrangement" with the camp commander, who chooses her for a more elaborate form of rape that involves candlelight dinners and her playing the role of a seductress. Submitting to the fantasy in order to remove herself from the gang rapes of the "women's room," S. refrains from using her new status to improve the lot of the other prisoners. The tradeoff risks the respect of her fellow victims ("You've sold yourself cheap," one of them says to her), and the future psychological cost isn't clear. When she discovers she is pregnant--the father could be any one of a hundred soldiers--she faces another set of difficult decisions. Should she bring a child born of such hate into the world? And should she tell the child about its origins? Or is she instead obliged to tell the truth about the war? "Which is the greater," she wonders, "the right to a father or the right to the truth." Though not overtly political, S. forces us to consider the long-term tragedy of the female victims of the Bosnian War, and is all the more valuable for its inclusion of these gray-area compromises and their painful aftereffects. --John Ponyicsanyi

From Publishers Weekly

S. lies in the Karolinska Hospital in Sweden, where she has just given birth to a baby boy. She refuses to nurse him. Maj, in the next bed, is worried and shocked, but she is not aware of the trauma in which the baby was conceived. It is March of 1993, and S. spent the previous summer in a Bosnian prison camp. She cannot guess which of the men who raped her there was the baby's father. As she lies in the hospital bed, S. remembers the summer of 1992, from the day when the soldiers rounded up the occupants of the Muslim village of B., shot the men and herded the shocked, obedient women onto buses. She remembers life in the camp, where she was assigned to help E., the nurse, tend the sick, and the horrible rumors about the "women's room," where women are taken for the Serbian soldiers to rape. Soon it is her turn for the "women's room"; surviving rape and dehumanization, she develops a protective need to forget. But she cannot forget the other women in the room, their struggles, their wounds, their deaths. All she has succeeded in obliterating is her previous life, in which she was a teacher, with parents and a sister who once lived in Sarajevo. They have vanished, and she would have disappeared, too, if she had stayed with them. She has vanished, anyway, into the depersonalized world of the raped, the refugee, the woman without a country. This novel by journalist and novelist Drakulic (The Balkan Express; The Taste of a Man) is a terrifying, graphic story of a country's lost identity, told through the suffering of the nameless inmates of the camp and their attempts to rebuild their lives after liberation. (Feb.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Of course I read the papers.
Linda Linguvic
It took me more than a month to read this book because I kept going back to the passages trying to find words that will make it less brutal.
Those of us who may live out our lives in peace because we live in the West should consider ourselves very lucky.
Jeffrey Leach

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I just wanted to write a review to balance out the 1 star that was given. This book is amazing in it's insight, honesty, and brutal truth about a war most Americans know little about. It's as if the author, a woman and a fine novelist, went through these ordeals first hand or at least had first hand knowledge of the atrocities of the war that was not only waged on the streets and in the countryside but upon bodies and human emotion.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on February 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
The sparse title of this book reflects the contents within. Slavenka Drakulic, a Croatian journalist turned writer, has given the world one of the sparsest, depressing novels of all time. It is a pity she's not better known because she is an excellent author. This book is one of several that she has written, and I suspect it might be her best one. I only came across this book because I noticed it was a book about the Balkans, an area in which I have an avid interest.
The whole book is essentially the inner thoughts of S., a half Serb/half Muslim schoolteacher who finds herself caught up in the Bosnian war in the early 1990's. S. is abducted at gunpoint and sent to a camp where she quickly finds herself in the throes of dehumanization. S. and groups of other women are tormented by guards, denied adequate housing and food, and denied proper medical care. The book nosedives into insanity when S. is chosen to become an inmate of the "women's camp," a special brothel set up to service the soldiers of the camp. S. and others are routinely raped and tortured. Drakulic tells us the details, which I will not reproduce here for reasons of decency. S. survives the camp by becoming the girlfriend of the camp commander. Eventually, S. is freed through a prisoner exchange and ends up in Zagreb with a cousin and her family. S. doesn't want to stay and ends up hitting the refugee lottery by getting a visa to Sweden. Unfortunately for S., she discovers she is pregnant by one of the soldiers involved in the rapes. S. agonizes over her condition and decides to put the baby up for adoption. The end of the book can be seen as either happy or depressing, although I tend to see it as the former, a triumph over the inhumanity of war.
Drakulic pulls no punches with this tale.
Read more ›
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lorraine Berry on April 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
...I did not find the translation poor. If anything, thetranslator did an amazing job of rendering Serbo-Croatian into Englishin such a way that I would venture to guess that the emotional impactof the original language has been preserved. The writing is sparse. There are few adjectives used and the sentences are short. This makes for a very emotionally tough read--your imagination is forced to deal with the acts taking place. They are not prettified. They are raw. They are powerful. They force you to think about the ugliness that is inflicted upon these women.
What's interesting is that S. makes two choices in this book that others may have had serious problems with. In order not to give anything away, I won't talk about them here, but by making the choices that she does she is able to have some agency over her victimhood.
I have been haunted by this book for days. It will stay with me forever.
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Subtitled "A Novel About the Balkans", this seemingly simple novel is the story of one woman during one awful year. Purposely, the author only uses the first initial, "S", throughout the book for the name of her main character. She also uses only the first initial of the names of all the other characters. This technique depersonalizes them all, which is her intent. For this is a chilling account of the imprisonment and rape of Bosnia women during the war in 1992.

The novel opens in March of 1993. S is in Sweden and has just given birth of a baby boy who she plans on giving up for adoption. The story then flashes back to May of 1992 when S's life changed forever. That's when the soldiers came. After that it was just one horror after another. I cringed as I read it and, when I put the book down, I didn't want to pick it up again. But it was a short book, merely 201 pages, and so well written, that I just couldn't tear myself away. And I also couldn't help thinking about the life that I, myself, was living during that time period and how much I take for granted.

Of course I read the papers. The inhumanity of human beings to other human beings was documented. But somehow, through this story of one particular woman, I felt the kind of real emotion that simple newspaper accounts do not convey. I therefore applaud the author for making it very real to me.

This is not a pleasant read. But I highly recommend it.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By "bookboarder" on September 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
It is difficult to put into words how this book affected me. As a woman, it touches me to my very core. Slavenka Drakulic's honest portrayal of what some women suffered during the collapse of Yugoslavia is precise. At times it is absolutely unbearable. At times it is the most beautiful tale of human strength. It is definitely something to read about things that happen outside of our own lives. To look at these people and what they suffered is to take a step into a world that is entirely unfamiliar. Finally, I was able to grasp the severity of such conflicts that were often a sidebar on the nightly news when I was still a girl. The gravity of this book is devastating, but so forthright, it is impossible to stop reading. If you want to gain some perspective on the sufferings that occurred not to long ago, and are possibly still occurring to this day in certain parts of the former Yugoslavia, S. will definitely give you that perspective. Be prepared forever for an intense and graphic read. It will disturb you, and at times comfort, however, you won't be able to erase the images that Slavenka Drakulic superbly illustrates.
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