With all that has happened in the world in the past twenty years, I suspect most Americans have forgotten (assuming they ever knew) about the wars that raged in the Balkans from 1991-1995. Based on ethnic and religious hatreds spawned centuries earlier, these bitter and bloody conflicts produced the term “ethnic cleansing” as a euphemism for genocide.
In The Notice, author Sean M. Chandler (@SeanMChandler) tells three stories at once, and does an exceptional job of in turns educating, captivating and horrifying the reader. It is a powerful piece of writing about human nature, violence and bigotry.
In the main story we follow along with a young girl named Violet as her city of Zenovica and the newly independent nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina sink into violence and warfare. Violet is the product of a “mixed marriage” — a common and somewhat unremarkable state of affairs before the current unrest — as her mother is Serb and her deceased father was a Croat.
We learn Violet’s story because many years later, in American, a small girl has been called a “Chetnik” by a classmate. The term is an ethnic slur referring to Serbs, and the girl wants to know what it means and why she was called it. Her father, who is from Bosnia, is away so it is up to her mother to recall a story that will illustrate her young daughter’s heritage. There is a ghost in the story, but the horror is more real than any supernatural spirit could dredge up.
Things are peaceful enough in Violet’s Zenovica in the summer of 1992, but the news from around the nation is not good. There have been conflicting and unclear reports of bloodshed and violence between Serbs, Croats and Muslims in other areas and Violet fervently hopes the tide of hatred will pass by her small city.
Violet’s view is quite narrow, claustrophobic almost, and influenced by the fears and prejudices of her mother, neighbors and friends. The adults whisper and fret, the slant of news reports depends on which station listened to, but the rising tension and dread is very real. When her group of friends begins to break apart along ethnic lines, Violet finds her hopes for peace slipping away.
I found using Violet’s viewpoint to be extremely powerful, but to help the reader better understand the wider picture — and the young girl’s peril — Mr. Chandler provides regular and highly succinct passages depicting the war’s background and events happening elsewhere. The author often cites post-war investigations by the United Nations and International Court which are chilling in their description of atrocities committed.
I highly recommend The Notice. It is a powerful, illuminating and captivating story about the nature of humanity, good and bad, told from the middle of a situation as desperate and frightening as anything one could imagine.
In a final note, Mr. Chandler’s website indicates he has taken a hiatus from writing. I wish him the best as he “takes a breath” as he puts it. I would like to hear more from this author, much more.