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A Haunted Past: The Books And Films Of Sarajevo

Picture of A. J. Samuels
Updated: 11 October 2016
With its complex and often painful history, Sarajevo can be seen as both haunting and inspirational at the same time. This can be discovered by delving into the wealth of literature and cinema surrounding the city, particularly the most influential pieces of work and the history that influenced them.

One Morning in Sarajevo by David James Smith

It was in Sarajevo on 28 June, 1914 that the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. This would trigger a wide array of consequences which would ultimately lead to the First World War. One Morning in Sarajevo by David James Smith is an account of the events and conspiracies that led to the Archduke’s death. This is unlike Alex Woolf’s Assassination in Sarajevo which examines the legacy of the incident and contemplates what history would have been like had it not happened. Instead David James Smith re-investigates this period of history, reconstructing the events that would would lead to this catastrophic war.’

Sarajevo Rose by Stephen Schwartz

Sarajevo Rose by Stephen Schwartz is the story of the Jewish people of the Balkans. The book follows their lives after being forced into exile from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. Their contributions, achievements and legacy in defining the social fabric of the Balkans before the tragedies of the Second World War are highlighted.

Sarajevo Marlboro by Miljenko Jergovic

The Siege of Sarajevo (1992-96) was the longest siege of a city in modern warfare. It was described by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia as ‘a campaign of unrelenting violence against the inhabitants, so as to reduce them to a state of medieval deprivation in which they were in constant fear of death, with nowhere safe for a Sarajevan, not at home, at school or in a hospital from a deliberate attack’. As a result Sarajevo Marlboro was created. It is a compilation of 29 stories by journalist Miljenko Jergovic. Described by Slavenka Drakulic as ‘possibly the best book to be written about Bosnia’, it portrays the lives of the city’s inhabitants and their thoughts and emotions in the midst of the siege. The book won the Erich Maria Remarque peace prize upon publication and was praised for its depth and ability to transcend and connect to readers unaware and unaffected by the brutal conditions that the Sarajevans were forced to undergo.

Echoes from the Square by Elizabeth Wellburn

Vedran Smailovic was a cellist who played in the ruined buildings during the siege to honor the dead, drawing the eyes of the world to the plight of his people. Echoes from the Square is a fictional account of his inspirational and heroic tale. Written by Elizabeth Wellburn, the book narrates the story of a small boy and his experiences after hearing the cellist.

Blue Helmets and Black Markets: The Business of Survival in the Siege of Sarajevo by Peter Andreas

Blue Helmets and Black Markets: The Business of Survival in the Siege of Sarajevo by Peter Andreas is an excellent examination of the siege. Andreas traces the relation between the ‘formal front stage and the informal back stage’ activities during the war and shows how international intervention often had unintended consequences.

Goodbye Sarajevo: A True Story of Courage, Love and Surviva by Atka Reid

Goodbye Sarajevo: A True Story of Courage, Love and Survival is a story of two sisters. The book examines how war affects families and shows both extremes of humanity: brutal destruction and extraordinary kindness in the midst of the worst European conflict after the Second World War.

Born in Sarajevo by Snjezna Marinkovic

Born in Sarajevo is the story of author Snjezna Marinkovic who was 17 years old during the time of the siege. It is a deeply moving account of how the war developed and how the people gradually lost their ‘freedom, homes and lives’. Marinkovic tries to convey a message of hope and harmony and how it can be achieved despite the city’s difficult past. Marinkovic suggests in this work that ‘Sarajevo is a city where wars may begin, but love always triumphs as the victor’.

Sarajevo: Biography of a City by Robert J Donia

Robert J Donia’s Sarajevo: Biography of a City is a fascinating look into the city’s history from its foundation in the fifteenth century to the present. Exceptionally researched, the book has been described as ‘the best book to have been written on the city…’, ‘as it survives one epoch, one political regime, one religious dynasty after another’.

Welcome to Sarajevo by Michael Winterbottom

Welcome to Sarajevo is a British film which was released in 1997. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, the film follows the journey of two journalists as they travel to a besieged Sarajevo and their efforts to rescue an orphaned Bosnian child in the country. Filmed with real debris and often with footage of real attacks, the film was praised for bringing the conflict into international focus.

Grbavica: The Land of My Dreams by Jasmila Žbanić

The critically acclaimed Grbavica: The Land of my Dreams shows the spirit, struggle, and more importantly the hope, present in Bosnian society in the aftermath of the war. The film, written and directed by Jasmila Žbanić, follows the lives of a single mother and her daughter. Subtle and soulful, Grabavica illustrates the lasting effects of war. However with an ending filled with hope, the film is testament to the fact that two decades later, whilst everyday life still bears visible marks of the conflict, Bosnia and Sarajevo is coming back to life.