Brkic’s Stillness

Brkic’s stories focus on aspects of the Balkan wars which are often overlooked. Beyond the racial conflict between the differing ethnic groups of the region, the stories also express the personal views and experiences of those who are caught in the middle of the conflict with no obvious preferences but to be left alone. These individuals all experience a fog of not knowing their fate, not knowing the intentions of their captors, or in the case of Lejla in The Jasmine Shade not knowing the intentions of even former friends in her community. What is surprising in these stories is the fact that the people involved don’t express their thoughts on the reasons for the conflict at large, nor a particular feeling on it beyond simple survival, as if a reason isn’t expected.

In the story The Jasmine Shade, the crimes enacted upon Bosnians by fellow Bosnians show how this particular war was beyond one of racial conflict. It describes how it was used as an excuse by the unscrupulous to feed upon their own people for real or imagined slights such as those expressed by the former friend of Lejla.  Actions which would probably not have occurred normally if a different or stronger authority was in control. The behavior of the captors and who the captors were display what could be seen as the wrong side of the thin line dividing what can be considered warfare and what is simply uncivilized behavior with no specific goal in mind.

In the aptly named story Suspension, the aspect covered is one of how daily life is put on hold due to the conflict and not resumed until the conflict ends, except for the family whose son is lost. For them life cannot resume as his absence is a constant reminder of the past. Notably this is represented by the wife’s habit of keeping a place at the table for the lost son. The father tries to move on but even he lapses into the past time and again when something serves as a reminder of the past, which is often as he had the (mis)fortune of returning to his family home which has been the same one which served at least 3 generations. Beyond the tragic loss of life this story portrays, it also paints a picture of how warfare harms not only the life of a victim in a literal sense but can also practically kill the lives of those with close relationships with the victim.

The story Canis Lupis is a bit harder to follow due to its dual nature. In this story the captive’s self-identity takes on a zoomorphic state. He envisions himself as a wolf who had lost his family, which is assumed to be a mirror of the real family he lost in the act of his captivity. His internment in a zoo seems to have played a key role in his desire to psychologically regress into and identify with an animal state. With his family being lost and his solitary confinement being lengthy, coupled with malnutrition, it is no wonder that this occurred. Taking on the perspective of the wolf man makes it difficult to interpret the world around him as his mental state has colored the world. He sees not only himself as an animal, but fellow prisoners as zoo animals as well. When the “elephant” escapes the zoo and causes significant turmoil before it is struck down, it is not known for certain whether this was a real elephant or some other prisoner. Though the graphic description of the body seems to point to the former, the latter interpretation yields an even stranger view. The mercy killings of the injured “lions” also cause one to wonder of the true identity of the animals in question.

While it is hard to come to a conclusion about war in general from these personal views of a single conflict, the individual stories experiences expressed during this conflict would do well to remind nations of the necessity of what are considered civilized rules of warfare which keep them from crossing the line from is seen as necessary evil to the abyss of the unnecessary.

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