April Bookclub Review: Girl at War

Saturday 30 April 2016 by

Girl at War, Sara Novic, Book, Reading, Little Brown, HoBBookclubGirl at War by Sara Nović

Published by Little, Brown


Growing up in Zagreb in the summer of 1991, 10-year-old Ana Juric is a carefree tomboy; she runs the streets with her best friend, Luka, helps take care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But when civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, football games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills.

The brutal ethnic cleansing of Croats and Bosnians tragically changes Ana’s life, and she is lost to a world of genocide and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival. Ten years later she returns to Croatia, a young woman struggling to belong to either country, forced to confront the trauma of her past and rediscover the place that was once her home.


Tomboy Ana lives in Zagreb. But her childhood is about to be wrecked by a brutal war. Split in to four parts, Girl at War tells her story from the moment all that is precious to her (parents, sister and best friend) is torn apart by violence. The first section is ended on a vicious scene that catapults her from childhood to adulthood.

This novel, however, is at its strongest because of its language. The child-narrator makes the adult scenes all the sharper and the prose is almost poetic in its execution. Nović is masterful at pulling out all the stops to use the language to drag your emotions out of hibernation and in to the cold light of day. The second section has all the notes of a tragicomedy – a polar balance to its beginnings – as Ana tries to get by in America in her twenties. But it isn’t until she returns to Croatia and tries to unravel  the conflict and its effects that the novel really comes in to its own.

It’s astonishing and traumatising and ambitious. It has the scent of a dystopian novel about it, but with the brutality of reality. It is intensely visual (and reading interviews with Nović about writing as a deaf author adds extra layers to this), and you are sucked in to the world wholly and powerfully.

There is no wonder it was picked for the Bailey’s Prize – this pages are a battlefield that is layered upon emotion with a rawness that is only felt in the most prized of novels. Nović is a star in the making, with a brilliance that radiates from the page. The most striking part of it, however, is the protective shell Ana builds around herself – the conflict is brushed off on the outside but internalised trauma soon claws its way to the surface in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. It is potent, and builds the emotion throughout the novel, rather in a huge crescendo.

This is a novel about grief, bravery, and memory. It is about the drive for survival but also what happens to the survivors. An astonishing debut.

What did you think of Girl at War?

May’s House of Blog Bookclub is The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie! Tweet your thoughts through the hashtag #HoBBookclub on Twitter or write on the wall on the House of Blog Facebook page.

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