Hotel Sarajevo

Jack Kersh, Author
Jack Kersh, Author Turtle Point Press $13.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-885983-21-3
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Hardcover - 978-84-08-02514-6
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The narrator of Kersh's moving first novel is 13-year-old Alma, a Serbian member of the ""Jevos,"" a gang of street kids living in the abandoned Hotel Sarajevo. Set in a landscape where rape, maiming and death by shelling are everyday events, Alma's coming-of-age unfolds with all the grotesque beauty and intensity of a nightmare. Perhaps just as chilling is her matter-of-fact description of this violence: ""I was only raped once. The soldier... seemed to do it not because he wanted to, but because that's what soldiers do."" Rising to moments of true lyricism, Alma's naive evocation of the adult-free, amoral environment of the Jevos and their vicious war games accurately captures the violent side of adolescence: Luka, the Jevos' 15-year-old gypsy leader, exhibits all the cruelty and charisma of a full-grown military dictator, heading a raid on a rival gang's headquarters that almost ends in the rape of a girl. Even Milorad, the shyest boy in the group, learns to mask his fear with bravado, transforming himself into Luka's most faithful soldier. More than a strong debut, the novel is something of a curiosity: Kersh wrote it (in a mere 24 weeks), without having set foot in Bosnia, then rushed his book into print, hoping to draw attention to the plight of his characters' real-life counterparts. Perhaps for this reason, he tends--in matters of the heart--to glorify the sentimentality of the very credible, very ordinary young girl he has created, and her ruminations are occasionally less hypnotic than monotonous. Through most of the novel, however, Alma proves a captivating witness to the horrors and incongruities of a vividly imagined life during wartime. BOMC and QPB selections. (Oct.)
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