Feeling inspired by Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge, Vilmos Kondor’s Budapest Noir was not the only book Europe-centric book I grabbed during my recent library visit. Out of a surprising number of books about the Balkans available at my library for me to choose from, I chose a somewhat battered and bruised hardcover copy of Peter Maass’ 1996 book Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War. In Love Thy Neighbor, Maass recalls the time he spent in war-torn Bosnia and environs during the early 1990s as a correspondent for the Washington Post. At first I was hesitant to select a first hand account of a war that ended over 25 years ago. However, after picking it up and noticing how good it felt in my hands I decided to take a chance on it. After finishing it last weekend I’m glad I took that chance. While there are parts of this book that are grim and depressing, Maass describes the bloody Bosnian War with passion and intelligence. On top of that, it’s well-written.
I’m old enough to remember seeing a lot of this senseless carnage on the TV news and covered in the newspaper. One of the reasons this book resonated so much with me is its ability to provide background and analysis of the stuff behind those horrific headlines. By doing so, Love Thy Neighbor served as a damning indictment of the West since the European Community and America did little if anything to stop the slaughter of innocent Bosnian civilians until its leaders were finally pressured to so something. Just like in Zlatko Dizdarević’s Sarajevo: A War Journal the UN Peacekeepers come across as impotent and devoid of resolve. Traditional rules of international peacekeeping might be fine if it’s a fair fight, but according to Maass this one certainly wasn’t.
As I’m so fond of saying on this blog, you know a book is really good when after finishing it, you want to read more. For a number of years I’ve been itching to read Michael Parenti’s To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia and with Love Thy Neighbor still fresh in my mind, why not now? In order to illustrate the absurdity of war, throughout Love Thy Neighbor Maass makes several references to Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. Right now I can glance across my bedroom and see an old paperback copy of Heller’s classic novel that’s been sitting on the shelf ignored and unread for many years. Probably high time I read that book too. Inspired by Love Thy Neighbor, hopefully I will.