With their backs to the world

Asne Seierstad’s book With their backs to the world: Potraits from Serbia, is an account of the life in Serbia from 1999 to 2004 during a period of conflict.

Seierstad, a journalist from Norway famous for her bestseller The Bookseller of Kabul, follows the lives of different people in Serbia and tells the story of the country’s political and social turmoil through their eyes. She talks to different people ranging from a displaced family to politicians and even to a rock star, tracking the changes in their lives against the wider backdrop of the Serbian crisis.

Seierstad’s book is about displacement, about conflict, and about how ethnic conflicts can tear people’s lives and communities apart. On reading the book it was hard to believe that we’re talking about a country that is in Europe. You can’t help but feel sad for the sufferings of the people there and given that Kosovo is in the news again (see Talking tough but sick of fighting: Serbs prepare for Kosovo showdown) the conflict and the turmoil looks far from over.

If you’ve read The Bookseller of Kabul, you may not find Potraits from Serbia as good but it is an interesting book nonetheless and worth reading. Most of us may not live in Serbia but there are lessons we can learn from what has taken place there. In the words of Maya Angelou:

History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.


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