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Black Butterflies: SHORTLISTED FOR THE WOMEN'S PRIZE 2023

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A beautifully written account of the siege of Sarajevo in the nineties that could easily apply to many corners of the world where people of different “tribes” live peacefully together but then are thrown into a conflict that pits neighbours and families against each other. I love teaching as well as writing and teach creative writing, most recently at University College Dublin. Black Butterflies succeeds in showing how societies – and individual citizens – can indeed slide from safety to siege.

There is a very sad death towards the end that I could acknowledge as heartbreaking but I didn't feel the sorrow because of that disconnection.The title has heartrending significance: ‘black butterflies’ are fragments of paper carried on the breeze after the burning of the National Library of Sarajevo, 30 years ago last month. In the spring of 1992, fifty-five year old Zora can’t imagine that the Siege of Sarajevo will last long. But as the city falls under siege, Zora and the people around her – most of whom she barely knows – find themselves cut off from their comforts, rights and the outside world. She studied at Cambridge University and the University of East Anglia, where she gained a PhD in Creative Writing. Of course, the author hasn’t written this book to capitalise on the current war because I had received this book from Netgalley in January and it is meant to be published on the 30th anniversary of the ‘Siege of Sarajevo’.

Because I read the audiobook edition I wasn't able to read the Author's Note, but I found this article that explains how the novel relates to the author's family. Multi-cultural Sarajevo, with its splendid Hapsburg past eventually comes under siege in the Bosnian War of 1992.

Experience the siege of Sarajevo through the eyes of Zora, an artist and teacher who is floundering at the midpoint of her life. Her apartment building, art studio (which sits above the library), are obliterated by the incessant bombing. Sorry, I don't want to sound like a book-snob, but this is far more commercial in writing style, tone and attitude than I expected (lots of those 'cold needles of panic pierced my stomach' type sentences - ugh! I may have been raised at the height of ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland but I have no concept of life in a war zone.

The reader will feel Zora’s pain and pleasure when finding ways to survive and her eventual bid for freedom. Thoroughly deserving of its place on the shortlist, this is a worthy contender for the overall prize.The characters, the setting, and story will draw you in, close you into the dark and narrow confines of a hiding place where characters become a family of circumstance. I have a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and read Spanish, Italian and Social Anthropology at Cambridge University. And she treats it with subtlety and sensitivity—we feel pain, loss, helplessness, hopelessness—and without bringing in the slightest hint of drama. Each night, nationalist gangs erect barricades, splitting the diverse city into ethnic enclaves; each morning, the residents - whether Muslim, Croat or Serb - push the makeshift barriers aside. Priscilla Morris took me inside the siege of Sarajevo through the eyes of Zora Kocovic, a Bosnian Serb painter, who finds herself trapped in the Bosnian capital and survives to escape during the bitter winter of 1992.

The little contact she had with her family on the telephone too comes to an end, when lines are cut off.I appreciate the themes of people helping people, resilience, determination, hope, human kindness, and compassion for refugees. Facebook sets this cookie to show relevant advertisements to users by tracking user behaviour across the web, on sites that have Facebook pixel or Facebook social plugin.

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