Finished September 9
Little Bastards in Springtime by Katja Rudolph
This novel takes us from 1992 through 1998 in the world of Jevrem Andric. In the spring of 1992, Jevrem is eleven years old and living in Sarajevo with his parents, older brother Dusan, and younger twin sisters Aisha and Berina. His father is a journalist and his mother is a concert pianist. His father is Serbian and his mother is Croatian. His maternal grandmother, Baka, loves to tell him stories of her life as a partisan fighter in World War II and her subsequent years rebuilding the country. His maternal uncle, Ujak Luka, is a fun-loving man that leaves Sarajevo for North America soon after the book's beginning.
As the tensions between ethnicities and religions heat up and fighting begins, Jevrem and his siblings are confined to the apartment building they live in more and more. Dusan is frustrated and wants to be involved in what is going on, and his age, sixteen, means that he has more freedom than Jevrem or the girls, who are only six. Jevrem overhears the adult conversations around him, and worries about what is happening.
Then things get worse. Sarajevo is cut off, Jevrem's father and brother join the fighting, and food becomes scarce. Bombs hit nearby and people Jevrem knows are hurt or even killed. As he struggles to make sense of things and support his family as best he can, Jevrem is changed in ways he isn't even aware of.
The book then moves to 1997 in Toronot, where the remaining members of Jevrem's family have settled. Jevrem's mother has stopped playing the piano, sunk into depression. Jevrem struggles in school, playing truant or absent mentally from his classes despite his intellect. His Baka is lost in her past more and more. Jevrem falls into a gang of other Jugoslavian refugees around his age, breaking the law even as his Baka urges him to do something good. And then something else changes for him and he decides to start doing good. It is only as he descends further into sadness and uncertainty that he finds a way to remember what he has been through and begin to heal.
This is an amazing book, and Jevrem's struggles were very real to me as a reader. I highly recommend it.