"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.)
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