Monday, September 2, 1991
Behind me–a long, hot summer and the happy days of summer holidays; ahead of me–a new school year. I’m starting fifth grade. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends at school, to being together again. Some of them I haven’t seen since the day the school bell rang, marking the end of term. I’m glad we’ll be together again, and share all the worries and joys of going to school.
Mirna, Bojana, Marijana, Ivana, Maša, Azra, Minela, Nadža–we’re all together again.
Thus goes the first entry of Zlata’s diary, written only a few months before the Serbian bombardment of the Bosnian city of Saravejo began in a surge of ethnic cleansing. Unlike so many other entries in my series Obscure Books From Childhood, Zlata’s Diary is nonfiction. It is a small biography, a memoir that tells the harrowing story of two years spent in a war zone.
I read this book as part of an assignment in sixth grade. We had just read The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time and were told to do a report using another diary from another child in terrible circumstances. I didn’t realize it then, but it is frightening just how many there are for us to choose from. I don’t remember why I picked Zlata’s Diary specifically. It may have just been the one left on the shelf, or maybe I liked the exotic sound of her name.
Rereading Zlata’s Diary as an adult, I understand a lot more than I did back in sixth grade. Back then, I remember feeling far more removed from it. Even though the Bosnian War had occurred during my lifetime, it felt like long ago and it was far away. I had no context, no basis for comparison, no life experience to draw on. I’ve lived a very fortunate, very sheltered life. Meanwhile, a girl only a little older than me was going through hell. And yet also adapting to that hell at the same time because humans are adaptable and manage to have life continue in some fashion even with their city being shelled and machine gun fire rattling through their windows. Zlata survived the war and now lives in Ireland, but so many of her friends did not. And even as she wrote to her diary Mimmy, she knew about Anne Frank and her diary and the fate that ultimately befell her. It is strange and surreal and shows how we exist on a knife-edge that is far too close for comfort.
I chose Zlata’s Diary as the final installment of the #HalloweenReads because it is a story of horror as much as it is of hope. The horror of what human beings can do to each other for the stupidest and most trivial of reasons. And I offer it as a reminder of how much collateral damage is done to the innocents caught in the crossfire of ideology.