Balkan Express: Fragments from the Other Side of War by Slavenka Drakulić - review by Toby Litt

Toby Litt

Runaway Train

Balkan Express: Fragments from the Other Side of War


Hutchinson 146pp £8.99

Slavenka Drakulić is a Croat. ‘Two years ago, if you mentioned that you came from Croatia (which you probably wouldn’t mention anyway, because you knew it wouldn’t make sense to a foreigner) people would look at you in bewilderment repeating the unknown name with a question mark...’ Things are completely different now. ‘...whereas before, I was defined by my education, my job, my ideas, my character – and, yes, my nationality too – now I feel stripped of all that. I am nobody because I am not a person any more. I am one of 4.5 million Croats.’

Not the least of Slavenka Drakulić’s achievements in Balkan Express is to have illustrated how war – by altering the way one regards oneself and the way one is regarded by other people – totally changes one’s identity. We, in England, are not immune to this change: I would have read this book, and you this review, quite differently had Slavenka Drakulić been a Serb. (It is even doubtful whether a book giving a Serbian account of the war would, at this time, be published.)

Balkan Express takes the form of a series of articles, written between April 1991 and June 1992 at the rate of about one a month. At no point in the book does Drakulić attempt an objective history of the war. Instead, she writes anecdotally, in the first person, often in

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