Download PRETTY BIRDS: A Novel epub

by Scott Simon

Download PRETTY BIRDS: A Novel epub
ISBN: 0733621279
ISBN13: 978-0733621277
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Genre Fiction
Author: Scott Simon
Language: English
Publisher: Hodder (2006)
ePUB size: 1374 kb
FB2 size: 1260 kb
Rating: 4.8
Votes: 495
Other Formats: lit azw azw docx

Books like this one remind us again that no war is a good war for those who are dying, and perhaps about to die. This is the story of a young woman, a teenager, who is trained as a sniper to kill her countrymen who are also trying to kill her. It is the story of many people who are trying to stay alive and not starve during a conflict that has no rational meaning. We are in the divided city of Sarajevo where Serbs are trying to eradicate Muslims. Irena, a Muslim woman and high school athlete becomes a killer who shoots Serbian killers on the other side of the city.

The strange thing is that the dialogue of the novel's characters is often terribly funny while the theme of the book is terribly sad. The gallows humor is often interrupted by the injection of a sudden, heart stopping horror. Ultimately the book is one of tragedy that makes one think of the daily lives of ordinary people in Iraq today: people who are also trying to keep alive, trying to find enough to eat, and trying to avoid being shot on the streets or in their homes.

This is a war book that deals with the plight of ordinary citizens. It tells of how they adapt to a brutish situation. It also tells how they die, often while doing a small, daily task like standing in line to get a jug filled with water. The events in the book happened 14 years ago, but the things haven't much changed in the world since then.

This is an outstanding book. Put it on your required reading list.
Pretty Birds, by Scott Simon is a quirky piece of writing. Taking place during the Serbian-Bosnian conflict, its characters are coarse but strangely sensitive, tough yet vulnerable, darkly humorous in the midst of savagery. Its main character - I hesitate to say protagonist (more on that below) - is Irena Zaric a seventeen-year-old Muslim girl living in Sarajevo. She's a talented basketball player obsessed with fame, make-up, pop music and clothes. That her metamorphosis from typical teen to talented sniper seems logical is a tribute to Simon's offbeat narrative skills.

The novel - more of a literary reality show - portrays the pressures of urban warfare in a sort of diary fashion. While snipers kill grandmothers and teens in the streets, much is made of normal things: magazines and pop culture, beer and cigarettes, teen sex and family relationships.

The title refers to such a piece of minutiae. Pretty Bird is the Zaric family parrot, a sonic reproducer of whizzing bullets, bomb and mortar explosions, sirens, doorbells, telephones and microwaves. But the bird eventually comes to symbolize the pretty Sarajevan girls, who somehow remain resistant to war's animosities.

Simon, a war correspondent for NPR, draws on his experiences in Sarajevo to demonstrate an eyebrow-raising facility with fictional technique. For the first ten pages we see Irena at work as a sniper, followed by some eighty pages of flashback - an invitation to disaster for most novelists. He also manages to make conversations work between peripheral characters, providing editorial comments on the U.N.'s role there, Western Europe's blasé attitude toward the conflict, even a new twist to the hackneyed "war is hell" adage.

With all that works, what doesn't? Simon's characters certainly bring a new literary reality to the lives of non-combatants. But presenting them in documentary form leaves little room for depth. Irena, his intended protagonist, will leave readers wondering whether her decisions reveal strength or foolhardiness. And this often allows minor characters to upstage her.

Simon does accomplish one grander goal: portraying the absolute loss of purpose in this war. And his strong instinct for what works, for when and how to bend the rules of exposition, bodes well for our next encounter with his fiction.
The siege of Sarajevo was the longest in the history of modern warfare, and the worst in Europe since the end of WWII. It lasted from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996.

Irena Zaric is, in many ways, a typical teenager. Irrepressibly energetic, buoyant, funny, loving, she is a star on her high school basketball team, Sarajevo's champions. She wears funky clothes - a gray West German jacket, Esprit jeans, red-and-black Air Jordans, American polo shirts, hecho en Honduras, and sports purple nail polish. Her best friend and teammate, Amela Divacs, blonde and curvaceous, is considered prettier by the local boys, but lithe Irena, with the k .d. lang haircut, is thought to be sexier. She doesn't dwell much on politics, history or culture - she's a jock(!) - there are too many more important things on her mind, like athletics, her friends, acquiring copies of Q Magazine, Madonna, Johnny Depp, Michael Jordan, Princess Di, and the great Croatian player Toni Kukoc. Schoolwork is not a priority, although her teachers are not concerned about her. They know she is intelligent, that her "mind has depth." Of course she loves her parents, brother, (who is in Chicago), and grandmother, but like most teens, she takes them for granted. She adores Pretty Bird, her Timneh African gray parrot, who is an outrageous mimic, able to imitate the sounds of the telephone ringing, the doorbell, the refrigerator opening, the vacuum cleaner, and, best of all, the sound of a basketball hitting the hoop.

The war begins suddenly for Irena, on a warm weekend in March. Students march for peace and are shot for their idealism. Serb police take off their uniforms and badges and become the "paramilitaries," clothed in menacing black. They erect barriers and declare the land beyond, Serb Sarajevo. The Bosnian Serbs, supported by neighboring Serbia and Montenegro, respond to Bosnia-Herzegovina's declaration of independence with armed resistance. They aim to partition the republic along ethnic lines and join Serb-held areas to form a "Greater Serbia." The national army is converted into the Bosnian Serb Army, and Irena's family's apartment, the entire Grbavica block of buildings, is appropriated for Bosnian Serb officers.

Amela is officially knows as a Serb, Irena a Muslim, although her father recently yelled in outrage, "Half (Serb) isn't half enough for them. Yes, them...don't you see? They want 'purity.' My father was a Serb married to a Jew. I married a Muslim whose mother was a Croat. Serb, Croat, Muslim, Jew - what does that make you and your brother? We have no name. And now we have no place." The family decides to go live with Mrs. Zaric, Irena's grandmother and only living grandparent. She lives on the "other side of the river," in what is considered Muslim territory. "The Miljacka River, which used to tie the city together like a ribbon, now divides it like the edge of a serrated knife." On their way over, bombs falling around them, they are brutally attacked, violated and robbed by men dressed in black - Serb thugs. When they arrive, they find grandmother Zaric shot dead. Life only gets worse. Anyone who was alive, anywhere in the world, during the 1990's and able to read, knows just how terrible, (beyond description), life became for the non-Serbian Sarajevans.

Irena's former assistant principal, Dr. Tedic, offers her an innocuous job, ostensibly at the Sarajevo Brewery. There she is trained to be a sniper. Teenage women actually served as snipers for both Bosnian and Serbian forces during the war. Highly disciplined, they performed with excellence, and freed up the men to fight at the front. Irena is trained to aim and shoot at a spot, an object, not a human being. I wonder if that made her work any easier. "I'm kind of a pacifist," she confesses to Tedic. "So am I," he responds, "When the world permits."

Author Scott Simon, host of National Public Radio's Weekend Edition with Scott Simon, has covered ten wars, and has won extensive awards for his reporting, including the Peabody and the Emmy. He writes clear, straightforward prose, at times quite lyrical, and frequently moving. Irena's story, which is her city's story, will haunt you. The characters are three-dimensional, so much so that I felt as if I knew them personally by the end of the novel. The gallows humor is wonderful and there is plenty of suspense. I love Irena's parents, former hippies, their hearts filled with peace and love - still. "Pretty Birds" is compelling, riveting, and ultimately as shattering as the siege itself. My highest recommendations for this extraordinary novel.

"There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one's native land." --Euripides--