Ana Imagined

Perrin Ireland, Author
Perrin Ireland, Author Graywolf Press $22.95 (216p) ISBN 978-1-55597-300-1
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First-time author Ireland explores the emotional connection an American writer feels for a traumatized Bosnian colleague who could be her mirror image, as the author crosses borders of geography, nationality and faith with the powers of imagination and compassion. Anne, who's a writer living in Cambridge, Mass., sees Ana, a Bosnian Muslim poet, on a newscast about the war in the Balkans. Her own life masking a past tragedy, Anne feels such a kinship that she plunges into a study of war-torn Sarajevo in an effort to write a novel about Ana's life. The reader learns about Ana through Anne's imaginings and research, but also follows Anne through her own self-doubt, insecurities and traumatic personal history. As Anne downloads information from the National Library of Sarajevo to her computer, and raises her voice in protest against American indifference to the Bosnian conflict, Ana copes with full-blown war in her city, fearful for herself, her playwright husband, Emir, and her precocious, 10-year-old son, Muhamed. Ireland draws a clear parallel between the women's lives when Anne recalls the night in 1972 when she was raped in her own home. This memory sheds light on her empathy with Ana, who, under different circumstances, also becomes a rape victim. The women have in common their trauma and shame, and also their survival strategies, and though readers may bristle at the notion that an affluent Cambridge woman's life can be compared with that of a victim of brutal war, Ireland skillfully draws sympathy for her tormented heroine. Sarajevo, as the book points out, means ""resting place,"" and Anne's solidarity with Ana allows Anne to make peace with her own past. Other symbolic gestures are not as gracefully executed. References to Anne Frank as a recurrent symbol of hope suggest a kind of lineage of ""Annes"" whose pure flames and resilient souls, though harmed, are never destroyed. This trope is strained, although Ireland's fluid style and quiet, dignified tone elsewhere avoids forcing historical continuity in her poetic explorations. (May)
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