I tell people that I was born in a country that no longer exists – and it doesn’t, not on the maps, not in atlases, not on globes. It has vanished into history, now.
But the land that the “country” maps onto, that exists, will always exist. That little piece of earth is where I first opened my eyes to the world, first knew the love of family, first saw the sky and the stars, first told stories, first watched the grand old river flow past ancient shores and underneath iconic bridges… ah, but remember those bridges. They will become important in a moment.
This was the piece of land which held my ancestral spirit and it is the piece of land where my ancestors’ bones are buried.
I did not even know how much that mattered until that piece of land became the target for an unprovoked, undeserved attack, a war waged on the strength of spin and propaganda, something ginned up to achieve a political goal by the greater powers no matter how much was lost by somebody else whose welfare they didn’t care all that much about.
I had left the country once known as Yugoslavia when I was ten years old – and it was still that, then. It was later, during a bloody series of wars of secession, that it disintegrated, and what was left of that country-of-origin was a place called Serbia. And a town called Novi Sad.
All too many out there will have heard of the name of Kosovo. Not many will know anything of it beyond what the propaganda shoved down their throats by the western media would have had them know. Few Westerners cared about how much it meant to the culture and the soul of Serbia. When the West arrogantly demanded that Serbia give up its soul or face the consequences, Serbia faced the consequences. And those consequences involved nearly three months of bombing runs – targeting civilian structures like railroads, the electrical grid, even the TV station (they couldn’t have media out there who could counter their spin, after all….). A bomb took out (accidentally and that was a grave embarrassment) the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.
And yes, the targets included… those bridges.
The bridges of my childhood, the ones I had grown up with. The ones I watched, from a different continent half the world away, fall in flames, and felt those flames sear my own spirit. Years after the bombs took out the Old Bridge, I went back to Novi Sad and drove up the boulevard which led to that bridge – all that I remembered, all I knew, told me that there should be a superstructure of that bridge which would loom up as the road approached it… and it was not there… and it was a visceral stab to the heart. Still. It was a permanent loss that nothing could ever heal or change or replace.
I was so far away, so far away – there was nothing I could do except watch, and scream, and grieve. My own immediate family – close cousins – refugeed out of the country at the height of it all, taking the young children to safety to relatives in a more peaceful part of Europe. There was nothing I could do… until the suggestion was made, via email exchanged between members of a newsgroup which I was a regular in, that I should sublimate all that pain into writing.
“Letters from the Fire” was that book, written in epistolary form – in character – between me (as Sasha) and the man whom I would subsequently marry from the same newsgroup, as Dave.
I poured all that I knew and loved and had lost into that book. It was searing. It was visceral. It was so real that on one occasion, post publication, I had to correct a bookstore employee who was shelving the thing under Non Fiction.
“Are you sure it isn’t?” he asked uncertainly.
“Pretty sure, I wrote it,” I said to him.
I don’t know that even that carried enough weight to convince him.
All I know, all I can say about this book, is that this was the ultimate offering, the truth wrapped up into a tissue-thin layer of fiction and laid at the feet of a world which probably didn’t much care to know. But writing this book saved my life. Saved my soul.
Saved those bridges which I had loved and lost from a final forgetting and a grey oblivion.
Writing this book was the only gift I could give to that piece of land on which I took my first breath.
I don’t know that it is enough, that it can ever be enough. But it exists. And for those who want to know about love and war and truth… it is here.
You can pick it up in ebook form here