30 August 2009

59. S.

S. : A Novel About the Balkans - Slavenka Drakulic

This is a very interesting novel about events that took place during the war in Bosnia. It has nothing to do with Americans or American involvement. This book is written to expose the mass rape and torture of women by occupying forces.

I work with a man that is from Bosnia. He and his family were refugees and came to America. They are Muslim, and were the target of the genocide taking place at the time. He has told me stories of when he was in Sarajevo trying to escape with his family. Those stories of having no food or water while seeing the city was surrounded by tanks in the hills will always stay with me. He witnessed many horrifying events. I will never forget him or his stories about that time.

He is the reason I picked up this book. Slavenka Drakulic picked up where my friends stories left off. He would not have the first hand knowledge of what happened to women after they were taken away from the villages and put into camps. Drakulic wrote about that aspect of the war.

The story was just graphic enough to give you a thorough sense of the humiliation these people underwent. The purpose of what was happening to them was not about the pleasure for the men or to hurt the women. It was entirely about humiliating them and killing their souls. The Muslim women would be shunned for being raped. They would no longer be welcome in their own society. Public humiliation and mass rape made it clear to all who had been raped and who had not. I can only hope that the Muslim community in Bosnia has not shunned these women as Milosevic's army expected.

The characters in the book do not have names. They are called by either a title or by an initial. S. K. N. H. The Captain. Soldier. etc etc. No names for anyone. I think this is done to emphasize how the women become something other than the person whom they used to be. Once a captive, Jane Smith the school teacher from everytown USA would just be J. Why? Because she is not free. She owns nothing. She controls nothing. She can not control even her own body. She would become the property of, well, not even a person or a government. She would be the property of all the men who wish to do their bidding. Perhaps she lives. Perhaps she dies. It makes no difference because there are plenty of other "playthings" to choose from next time. It is very very sad.

One interesting aspect of this book was that S. got pregnant. She spent a lot of time reflecting on whether to give the child up for adoption or to raise it herself. For her whole pregnancy she looked at the life growing within her as a parasite or a tumor. Once the child was born she did not want anything to do with him...and at this time there was a lot of insight to her thought process.

Was it better for this boy to be raised by an adoptive family and have no idea who he was or how he was conceived? Was it better to raise him herself and make up a story about a father despite not knowing which one of many men it could have been? Was it better to raise him and tell him the truth about the rape and how she hated him while he was inside her?

There was no good solution to this problem. Lying to the child would probably make things seem better, but cause problems for him in other ways. To tell the truth might cause him to hate people he otherwise would not have...and I believe this is what influenced her decision. If he hated the Serbian people then perhaps he would seek revenge.

This book is very sad and made me angry at points. It is about war. It is about the evil things people can do to other people. I think all groups of people are capable of doing these things. Even here in America, where we like to pretend we are so noble. I think if there was an enemy right here doing some stuff to us we did not like that we would do evil things right back to them. I do not think our government would set up a situation like in Bosnia. I do think that the citizens would do many things beyond the control of our government. Maybe not to the extent of this book, but it could get pretty ugly real fast.

I am rambling now. Bed time. :-)

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