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With Their Backs To The World


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About the Author

Asne Seierstad (born 1970) has worked as a correspondent in Russia, China, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, amongst many other places. She has received numerous awards for her journalism. She lives in Oslo.


After covering the 1999 NATO air strikes in Yugoslavia, Norwegian journalist Seierstad (The Bookseller of Kabul) found herself wondering about the Serbs a "people that started one war after another, and lost them all." In 2000, she returned to explore the lives of 13 Serbians. Her account is noteworthy for casting a broad net and for her involvement in their everyday lives in the field with a farmer, in a secret studio with a journalist, on the street with a black marketeer, attending marathon services with a cleric, even performing with a rock star. Her timing was also serendipitous: in spring 2000, she witnessed the rallies that ultimately toppled Slobodan Milosevic; that October she watched thousands of protestors take over Belgrade, the parliament and the state TV station. Seierstad allows each subject his or her own voice: a stalwart Milosevic supporter longs for a new dictatorship; another claims there was "never any ethnic cleansing of Albanians"; a student activist hopes for membership in the EU. A disturbing enmity toward the U.S. and Muslims runs through many Serbs' accounts. "Great wars," Seierstad observes, "start out as folk songs and camp-fire stories, and end in genocide and bloodbaths." (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Readers familiar with Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul and A Hundred and One Days will discover the same sensitivity and intelligence in her portraits of Serbs that marked her treatment of Afghans and Iraqis in those books. Through repeated interviews and extended personal contact, she depicts 13 individuals and one family before and after the arrest of former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Her approach is successful for several reasons: the apparent confidence she inspired in some subjects, whose loathing of NATO and the West barely exceeded the magnitude of their love for Milosevic; her ability to show how the regime's change after Milosevic's fall profoundly affected persons both ordinary and exceptional; and her skill in describing the utter strangeness of life in Serbia. As Serb rock star Rambo Amadeus (Antonio Pusic) speculates about the wave of suicides after Milosevic's ouster, "People see that Milosevic is gone and their lives are still shit." Matching this pathos is Verica, a Serb refugee from Albanian-dominated Kosovo who struggles to raise her child in Serbia proper, where she is scorned. Then there's Zoran Zivkovic, whose courage in opposing Milosevic is redeemed when he is appointed prime minister in the post-Milosevic era but who loses his first election. This powerful and sympathetic book about people not well understood beyond their homeland deserves a wide audience. For all academic and public libraries.-Zachary T. Irwin, Pennsylvania State Univ., Erie Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"This book is part travelogue and part social and political document, giving voice to Serbs...a vivid and vital image of life in the country during and after its civil war."

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