Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War by Peter Maass
After all of the thousands of articles and news reports written about the war in Bosnia, you might think that there was nothing more to say on this unhappy subject. Peter Maass's angry, stinging, profanely eloquent and often painful book would prove you wrong.
-- Richard Bernstein; The New York Times review; February 28, 1996
This is the saddest book that I've ever read.
Thankfully, the emotions invoked by Love Thy Neighbor are anything but purposeless. Author Peter Maass fills each chapter with the feelings of mind-racking anguish and compassion that he experienced first-hand while covering the ethnic cleansing and racial conflict that tore apart the former Yugoslavia (and specifically Bosnia and Herzegovina) in 1992 and 1993.
As a correspondent for the Washington Post, Maass had access to many places that were off limits to most Americans: Banja Luka, the Trnopolje concentration camp, the offices of Yugoslavia's then-president Slobodan Milošević and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić. The stories that he brought back from those places, and dozens of locales like them, are heartbreaking. There's the story of Mersiha, a seventeen-year old Bosnian Muslim girl who was taken, along with her fifteen-year old sister, to a Višegrad hotel that had been converted into a "rape camp" by the occupying Serb militiamen. Mersiha listened to her sister's assault from across the hall before her own attack took place. Mersiha was escorted home the next day, but her sister was never seen again. And that's on Page 12; it's hardly the first such tale in the book.
Unconstrained by the editors at the Post, Maass makes no attempt to hide his disgust. His disgust with the men who committed many of the atrocities, many of whom had been living in relative peace with their Muslim/Croat/Serb/Albanian neighbors for decades. His disgust with the American and British diplomats and statesmen, including the Clinton administration, who stood idly by as much of Bosnia was laid waste. His disgust with the naïve United Nations officials and generals who seemed surprised when Serb warlords broke agreements. Maass does little to hide his anti-Serb slant, which readers can interpret in either of two ways: 1) Maass was a chronicler and first-hand observer of the atrocities and war crimes that took place in Bosnia, and thus portrays the Serbs (at least those who participated in, allowed or benefitted by the ethnic cleansing) in the light they deserve, or 2) Maass had a pre-existing anti-Serb bias, and failed to report the whole story. Personally, I opt for #1, with a small smattering of #2.
There were times while reading Love Thy Neighbor that I needed to put the book aside for a few days, such was the emotional burden of reading it. All the while I was paging through stories of gang rape, torture and murder, I couldn't help but imagining my friend Armansa in the place of the victims. Armansa's family, who were ethnicially considered Muslims, had lived in Sarajevo until the mid-1980s; I found that putting a familiar face on the receiving end of hate crime would abhor and rivet me simultaneously.
Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (for nonfiction) and the Overseas Press Club Book Prize in 1996.
PeterMaass.com: Love Thy Neighbor - http://www.petermaass.com/core.cfm?p=2
This book is my offering to The Great Grand E2 Book Lotto II.