Diarist's Detail Makes Balkan War Vivid

Sarajevo Days, Sarajevo Nights

By Elma Softi'c

Translated by Nada'c

Hungry Mind Press

200 pp., $20

For most of us, the war in Bosnia was something to see on television or read about in the papers, between the Entertainment section and the Sports pages.

But for Elma Softic, a former philosophy professor and the author of "Sarajevo Days, Sarajevo Nights," the war in Bosnia was neither a spectacle to observe at one's leisure nor an event to read about. It was something she experienced firsthand.

Four days after the outbreak of war in Sarajevo, on April 8, 1992, Softic started a diary in which she recorded the events on the ground - the shellings, the civilian casualties, the friends and relatives who went missing or who were abducted by Serb soldiers - as well as her own perspectives on what was happening around her.

Such personal observations of life in war-torn Sarajevo add depth and feeling to her diary's narrative. They give the reader insight into the day-to-day life within the embattled city, where a half-kilogram of powdered milk cost 25 DM ($37) and a kilogram of onions cost 10 DM ($15); a city where her father, a physician, earned 5 DM ($7.50) per month, while she received 100 times that amount as a secretary for Marie Stopes International, a United Nations aid organization.

The intimacy of the diary entries provides a vividness that at times is difficult to take. It is one thing to read in a newspaper that 27 people were killed by a mortar shell dropping on a market. It is quite another to face a graphic first-hand description of the carnage.

Unlike press accounts of the war in Bosnia, Softic provides a participant's point of view. She thinks deeply about the conflict, the condition of her beloved Sarajevo, her own reasons for choosing to stay in the city, and what the future holds. She makes no excuses for her sometimes caustic remarks about those she sees as responsible for perpetuating the conflict.

In mid 1993, the diary entries give way to letters written with fuller observations, greater detail, and more personal relfections.

*Sharon Johnson-Cramer is on the Monitor staff.

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