Smiling for Strangers

Gaye Hicylmaz, Author, Gaye Hicyilmaz, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $16 (160p) ISBN 978-0-374-37081-7
Once again focusing on themes of displacement, Hi yilmaz (The Frozen Waterfall) conveys the hardships and emotional turmoil of a girl escaping current-day Sarajevo. Living in the countryside with her grandfather, 14-year-old Nina's precarious safety vanishes when her cousin brings soldiers to the house. The soldiers leave only after fatally wounding Nina's grandfather and cousin, and Nina, following her grandfather's instructions, sets out alone for England and a previously unknown friend of her mother's. She accepts whatever charity is offered: a ride in the back of a British truck; meager lodging with a disturbed ex-soldier; faded, hand-me-down clothes; and pitying glances. While she is ""smiling for strangers,"" Nina silently seethes about the humiliations and injustices she has to endure. Her fury does not surface until she reaches her destination and meets her mother's friend, who reveals family secrets that Nina is not ready to accept. The violence Nina has experienced surfaces through fragments of dreams and memories; only gradually are the painful fates of her parents, brothers and cousins revealed. This approach seems emotionally truthful, but demands a lot from readers, especially given the intricacies of the conflicts in Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. More central to the story are Nina's prevailing sense of loss and strong survival instincts. Nina emerges as psychologically complex, a tough and scarred heroine who may awaken readers to the price of war. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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