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Friday, June 27, 2014

A Review of War

Strange title for a blog post, I know, but it seemed the best fit.  After several years without a book group, my friend and I decided to start one.  No one in the group had a specific book in mind so after reading the summaries of several books that Amazon recommended based on my purchase history, The Cellist of Sarajevo was selected.  Based on the synopsis it wasn't a book I might have normally chosen but it seemed like it would be a great book for a discussion.  The Cellist definitely made me think and brought up several interesting topics to discuss.  I finished that book, had our book group discussion and the next weekend headed to Park City where I hoped to spend a lot of time by the pool reading.  I grabbed Zen Under Fire from my book pile as I walked out the door and didn't really think about the similarity in subjects until I opened the book poolside.  As I started reading I wasn't sure that I was ready for another book that was set in a war zone - way too heavy for a summer afternoon - but I ended up really enjoying the book and was surprised how easy it was to find similarities and lessons for my life.

In a city under siege, four people whose lives have been upended are ultimately reminded of what it is to be human. From his window, a musician sees twenty-two of his friends and neighbors waiting in a breadline. Then, in a flash, they are killed by a mortar attack. In an act of defiance, the man picks up his cello and decides to play at the site of the shelling for twenty-two days, honoring their memory. Elsewhere, a young man leaves home to collect drinking water for his family and, in the face of danger, must weigh the value of generosity against selfish survivalism. A third man, older, sets off in search of bread and distraction and instead runs into a long-ago friend who reminds him of the city he thought he had lost, and the man he once was. As both men are drawn into the orbit of cello music, a fourth character—a young woman, a sniper—holds the fate of the cellist in her hands. As she protects him with her life, her own army prepares to challenge the kind of person she has become.
A novel of great intensity and power, and inspired by a true story, The Cellist of Sarajevo poignantly explores how war can change one’s definition of humanity, the effect of music on our emotional endurance, and how a romance with the rituals of daily life can itself be a form of resistance.

As I read this book I found myself repeatedly looking up the history of the conflict and reading to try to get a better understanding of what happened and why. After all of that I still don't know that I really understand the background or motivations,, but I certainly feel like I have a better feel for the devastation of war.  It was heartbreaking to read of the everyday lives that were scarred and changed forever when most just wanted to go about their business and had no desire for war.  The book was not super engaging, but I felt like it was really well written with some great lines and imagery.  Some of my favorite:
*Every death chips away at the Sarajevo of Arrow's youth with as much certainty as any mortar shell battering a building.  Those left are robbed of not only a fellow citizen but the memory of what it was to be alive in a time before men on the hills shot at you while you tried to cross the street.
*Although she has nearly completely lost sight of the person she was, she still knows who she wants to be, and as far as she can see, the only path leading her toward this person is back through her former self.
*Civilization isn't a think that you build and then there it is, you have it forever.  It needs to be built constantly, re-created daily.  It vanishes more quickly than he ever would have thought possible.  And if he wishes to live he must do what he can to prevent the world he wants to live in from fading away. As long as there's ware, life is a preventative measure.
*She didn't have to be filled with hatred.  The music demanded that she remember this, that she know to a certainty that the world still held the capacity for goodness.  The notes were proof of that.


I am about to be left in charge of the office.
I'm not sure I'm ready for the responsibility, so I double-check with my boss. He reassures me.
"You'll be fine, Marianne. As long as no one kills Amanullah Khan, you'll be fine."
By midday, Amanullah Khan is dead.  
Marianne Elliot is a human rights lawyer stationed with the UN in Herat when the unthinkable happens: a tribal leader is assassinated, and she must defuse the situation before it leads to widespread bloodshed. And this is just the beginning of the story in Afghanistan.  Zen Under Fire lays bare the struggles of a war-torn region from a uniquely personal perspective. Honest and vivid, her story reveals the shattering effect that the high-stress environment has on Marianne and her relationships. Redefining the question of what it really means to do good in a country that is under siege from within, Zen Under Fire is an honest, moving, at times terrifying true story of a women's experience at peacekeeping in one of the most dangerous places on Earth.
Maybe its the inherently nosy side of me, but I generally like memoirs.  I like getting inside someone's head and heart, especially when the writing allows me to feel a connection with the author.  This book had a lot of details and tried to provide a good background for many of the conflicts and issues experienced in Afghanistan.  I tended to gloss over those details as they were not nearly as interesting to me as the anecdotes about her life and the human interactions.  It's amazing that despite different language, location and culture, life can be so similar.  Some of my favorite thoughts:
*Sometimes working harder and doing more isn't what is needed, sometimes what i needed is for us to learn how to do less,how to let go of the need to be in control for a little while. Sometimes we need to accept that we can't do everything and just take a rest.
*She laughs at me but there are tears glistening in her eyes.  I may be a crazy foreigner, but I'm one who cares about her and her baby, and that is a basis for friendship anywhere in the world.
*There is an art to saying good-bye.  There's a temptation, when you are preparing to leave a place you love, to begin to withdraw your heart from the place.  It seems easier to leave quickly, with little fanfare and without really acknowledging the ways in which your heart is being torn in two.  But I've learned that the good byes you don't say will haunt you.


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