2014 marks the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of World War I. For months I’ve been wanting to feature a few books about this brutal armed conflict. Sadly however, I never got around to it. Even though I have no shortage of suitable books to read, I just never took the time to read any of them. But lo and behold one day at the public library I found a copy of Tim Butcher’s 2014 book The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War. After picking the book up and giving it a quick look over I found myself drawn to it for several reasons. One, since it deals with Bosnia I could count it as part of Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge. Two, it’s by the same guy who wrote Blood River: The Terrifying Journey Through The World’s Most Dangerous Country and since that book has been on my to read list for a long time I figured The Trigger had to be worth reading. And three, as its title declares it deals with that infamous assassination forever blamed for starting World War I. So with that in mind, how could I resist reading Butcher’s The Trigger?
Perhaps since civilization began writers and other creative types have praised the Rule of Three. Whether on purpose or by accident Butcher appears to have followed this time-honored formula while writing his book. The Trigger is a blend of memoir, travelogue and history. Butcher spent the 90s in Bosnia reporting on the newly independent nation’s bloody conflict. As a result of those wartime travels he developed a fascination with Gavrilo Princip, the young Bosnian who fatally shot the Austrian Archduke and his wife, thereby setting in motion the cascade of events leading to World War I. In order to explain not just how, but why this assassination was carried out by Princip, Butcher returned to present day Bosnia. Following in the young Princip’s footsteps he traversed the rugged and somewhat isolated nation, visiting his birthplace and other former residences. Butcher also spent time in Belgrade, Serbia where Princip met with Serbian elements opposed to Austria’s recent annexation of Bosnia. After Princip and his co-conspirators were given training and weapons they were sent back to Sarajevo with the tacit agreement they’d assassinate the Austrian royal couple during their upcoming state visit.
Recently on Goodreads I called The Trigger a history of Bosnia in three acts. In order to understand how and why the assassination occurred, Butcher chronicled the history of Bosnia, from its days as an ottoman province up to the time it was absorbed by Austro-Hungarian Empire. Then, in an effort to assess the lasting legacy of Princip’s actions, Butcher recalled his experiences covering the 90s Bosnian War, as well as his recent travels in Bosnia and neighboring Serbia.
It is that legacy which could be seen as one of history’s many cruel ironies. Princip was a nationalist, but not just any nationalist. Despite being an Orthodox Christian from Bosnia, he was neither a Serbian or Bosnian nationalist. Instead, he wanted to drive the Austrians out of the South Slavic lands of Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia so those provinces could unite with their already independent Slav brothers in Serbia and Montenegro. His ultimate goal was not an independent Bosnia but a united South Slavic nation free of Austrian domination. But with the disintegration of Yugoslavia 70 years later, his expansive dream would be seen as over idealistic and despised by the very people he sought to liberate.
I enjoyed reading the The Trigger. Not only is it an appropriate book to read during this hundredth anniversary of WWI, but I also think it makes a rather nice follow-up read to other books about or set in the former Yugoslavia like Misha Glenny’s The Fall of Yugoslavia, Peter Maass’s Love They Neighbor, Christopher Stewart’s Hunting the Tiger and Geraldine Brooks’s novel People of the Book.