Sunday 25 March 2018

Fiction: The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe

Quercus €18.99

The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe.
The People We Were Before by Annabelle Thorpe.

Anne Cunningham

The story opens in 1979. Eight-year-old Miro and his friend Tara are playing on the outskirts of the Croatian town of Knin when Tara steps on a landmine and loses both a hand and foot. Miro is unspeakably traumatised, and is to be haunted by this horror for many years to come. His parents decide to move to the Dalmation coast, joining Miro's uncle and aunt who are busying themselves setting up a restaurant business there. He leaves his older sister behind, and also his adored older brother Goran, but they visit often and Miro soon settles into life in a busy tourist village.

The family restaurant thrives and Miro makes new friends, Josip, a fellow Croat, and Serbian Pavle. The trio are inseparable. Through his teenage years Miro becomes something of a teenage shutterbug. He is passionate about his camera. When Tito dies, the fragile climate of peace in the former Yugoslavia dies with him.

Miro has grown up and married young in the intervening years, and has a baby daughter. As the storm clouds gather with the appearance of Serbian leader Milosevic, and soon afterwards his Croat counterpart, Tudman, Miro's old pal Pavle joins the feared and hated Serbian forces. Miro, meanwhile joins Zagreb TV as a young, green cameraman. And while attempting to get some medicine for his sick baby, the nightmare begins…

Annabelle Thorpe is a freelance journalist and a travel writer. This, her first novel, was born of a love for the Croatian coast where she spent her childhood summers. This book is an important chronicle of one of the most disgraceful conflicts of the late 20th century, where, to paraphrase Edmund Burke, evil happened because the "good men" of Europe stood idly by. And quite apart from the history lesson, it's a fascinating read.

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