Book Review: With Their Backs To The World by Åsne Seierstad

I posted a review of another book by Åsne Seierstad in August on this blog and it was her novel "Bookseller of Kabul". I loved that book and I am fascinated by this author, so I thought I would read another one of her books, this time about a different place in the world and one that I do not know a lot about.

With Their Backs To The World takes places in the late 1990s- early 2000s and is about Serbia. Seierstad travelled through this area during this period, when Milosevic was becoming unpopular, tensions between Kosovo-Serbs and Serbs were increasing, up to the period where several government officials were arrested and tried in The Hague for war crimes and controlling a genocide.

Seierstad interviews a wide variety of people, from journalists, to ordinary Serbs, to refugees from Kosovo, to a war criminals wife. It is truly an amazing assortment of people she spoke to for this book. Each chapter she visits a new person or family and really writes about their life, their opinions and their hopes for the future.

As mentioned, I do not know a lot about the former Yugoslavia during this time period, which is a bit absurd seeing as I was born in 1992. You would think that such events would have been broadcast on TV, and possibly they were and I was too young to notice, but seeing as the formal establishment of Kosovo didn't happen until 2004 (if I am not mistaken), then why do I only remember the news showing scenes from Baghdad and Kabul?

This question seems to be voiced by the people (the real life people) in this book. They wonder why they are portrayed as the enemy, they question the West and America and ultimately point out major hypocrisies that I (and I am sure many people) was unaware of.

From what I gathered in the novel, from the people whose lives were presented, it seems that Serbia was made out to be the West's enemy. I am not sure if that is how media portrayed it or if that is actually the case but if that is true then this was a very interesting book to start off with. I think it is of the utmost importance to research and view the events and conflicts from both sides or from a multitude of sides when forming an opinion and learning about something as serious as this. It seems like this happened many years ago, when in reality this conflict happened about 20 years ago.

As with "The Bookseller of Kabul" I very much enjoyed "With Their Backs To The World". It has definitely inspired me to learn more about this area and even read other accounts. I have also purchased another one of Åsne Seierstad's books titled "One Hundred and One Days" which is about the American bombing of Baghdad. I have also recently learned that she wrote a book about Chechnya, so now I am wanting to purchase that book next.

If you like learning about new things, like I do, then I think this book with be great! Åsne Seierstad is a fantastic writer and it is interesting to know that she has actually been to these places and spent time with these people in order to produce something that will hopefully educate people on a topic they know little or are extremely biased about.

Let me know your thoughts on this book if you have read it. Do you have any recommendations about books on the former Yugoslavia and the conflict that ensued from the break-up?

Happy Reading!

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