Interview: Not My Turn to Die
Christine Bednarz who blogs at Journey East conducted an interview with me about my book, "Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia" (March 2008, AMACOM Books, New York).
Growing up in Goražde, Bosnia, Savo Heleta did not think about ethnicity, race or religion. Everyone knew one other in the small peaceful city, his best friend was Muslim, and most considered themselves “Yugoslav.”
In Not My Turn to Die, Heleta describes (perhaps a bit too simply) how nationalist politicians led the country into war, but this is certainly not a story about politics. He provides a gripping account of his family’s struggle for survival during the first two years of the war, through constant shelling, murder attempts, degradation and forced starvation.
His family was among the few Serbian civilians that stayed in Goražde, a Muslim dominated city, and ironically, they suffered through shelling and sniper attacks from their own ethnicity. The city was crowded with Bosniak refugees from neighboring towns, and Heleta’s family became isolated in their own home among their neighbors with no connection to the outside world. Simple actions such as retrieving water became a matter of life and death. Eventually his family escaped by swimming in the Drina River to safety, but not until after they lived in complete terror for two years.
We often read personal accounts of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from a Muslim perspective and statistically, Serbs were guilty of most of the killing. However, Serbs also were persecuted during the war and suffered extreme losses.
Heleta’s memoir describes such experiences. He reminds us that this is only his story, and that he cannot speak for the country as a whole. Often Heleta describes acts of kindness from Muslim neighbors and his detailed, journalistic style is engrossing and sincere.
The book is as much about peace as it is about war, and readers witness the transformation of an angry adolescent to a forgiving adult, who studies and works on post-conflict issues in Africa today. I felt privileged to speak with him, and to hear his opinions on the war, life in Bosnia today, and the future of the ethnically partitioned state.