cover image Country of Red Azaleas

Country of Red Azaleas

Domnica Radulescu. Hachette/Twelve, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4555-9042-1

Amid the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the last two decades of the 20th century, a Serbian girl, Lara, chronicles her obsession with Marijaher, her beloved Bosnian friend. Lara meets “the girl from Sarajevo” at school in Belgrade when they are seven. The two girls grow up sharing everything, from summer holidays to student protests. Marija is the charismatic leader, Lara the adoring follower. As the political situation becomes grave, the two friends part when Lara leaves for Washington, D.C., with her American husband. Lara loses touch with Marija as war destroys their homeland. When the conflict subsides and Marija finally surfaces, she’s suffered unspeakable tragedy—she has been raped, and her family slaughtered. Lara’s sheltered life unravels too, possibly because she is so far removed from her true self. Finally reunited with the damaged Marija, Lara embarks on a journey of healing with her cherished friend. Radulescu’s (Train to Trieste) subject matter demands a writing style and tone to match its gravity; instead this book is awash with overwrought, overwritten sentimentality. As a result, Lara and Marija’s story never really comes together for the reader. [em](Apr.) [/em]