From the moment Marija walks into Lara's classroom, freshly moved to Serbia from Sarajevo, Lara is enchanted by her vibrant beauty, confidence, and wild energy--and knows that the two are destined to be lifelong friends. Read more...
From the moment Marija walks into Lara's classroom, freshly moved to Serbia from Sarajevo, Lara is enchanted by her vibrant beauty, confidence, and wild energy--and knows that the two are destined to be lifelong friends. Closer than sisters, the girls share everything, from stolen fruit and Hollywood movies as girls to philosophies and even lovers as young women. But when the Bosnian War pits their homelands against each other in a bloodbath, Lara and Marija are forced to separate for the first time: romantic Lara heads to America with her Hollywood-handsome new husband, and fierce Marija returns to her native Sarajevo to combat the war through journalism behind Bosnian lines.
In America, Lara seeks fulfillment through work and family, but when news from Marija ceases, the uncertainty torments Lara, driving her on a quest to find her friend. As Lara travels through war-torn Serbia and Bosnia, following clues that may yet lead to the flesh-and-blood Marija, she must also wrestle with truths about her own identity.
Told in lush, vivid prose, COUNTRY OF RED AZALEAS is a poignant testament to both the power of friendship and our ability to find meaning and beauty in the face of devastation.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-29
- Reviewer: Staff
Amid the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the last two decades of the 20th century, a Serbian girl, Lara, chronicles her obsession with Marijaher, her beloved Bosnian friend. Lara meets “the girl from Sarajevo” at school in Belgrade when they are seven. The two girls grow up sharing everything, from summer holidays to student protests. Marija is the charismatic leader, Lara the adoring follower. As the political situation becomes grave, the two friends part when Lara leaves for Washington, D.C., with her American husband. Lara loses touch with Marija as war destroys their homeland. When the conflict subsides and Marija finally surfaces, she’s suffered unspeakable tragedy—she has been raped, and her family slaughtered. Lara’s sheltered life unravels too, possibly because she is so far removed from her true self. Finally reunited with the damaged Marija, Lara embarks on a journey of healing with her cherished friend. Radulescu’s (Train to Trieste) subject matter demands a writing style and tone to match its gravity; instead this book is awash with overwrought, overwritten sentimentality. As a result, Lara and Marija’s story never really comes together for the reader. (Apr.)
Friendship in Sarajevo
Lara and Marija have always been more like sisters than friends. Growing up in the Balkans, they spent every summer together in Sarajevo, stealing fruit from the neighbor’s gardens and quoting classic Hollywood movies. The friendship only deepened in college, where they shared everything from fiercely anti-nationalist sentiments to a pale, white boy named Milko. Life was about ideological, heady conversations in tiny cafes over shots of vodka and reckless nights spent tangled in sheets.
But when the Bosnian war begins, Lara, a Serb, and Marija, a Bosnian, are forced to face the realities of their separate identities. Lara moves to Washington, D.C., with her American husband, where she throws herself into her graduate studies in political science and tries desperately to nurture an unraveling marriage. Meanwhile, Marija returns to Sarajevo to work as an undercover journalist. When contact with Marija suddenly ceases, Lara is gripped with a fear that she has lost her. Amid the chaos and mess of her personal life and driven by her desire to know the truth, Lara embarks on a journey through war-torn Serbia in an attempt to discover what really happened to her dearest friend.
Country of Red Azaleas, the third novel from Romanian writer Domnica Radulescu, is a tightly wrought, beautiful story of friendship. Whether she’s conjuring up the colorful sights and smells of the prewar Balkans or describing the “fierce clarity of the war” where you “get to see humanity all bare,” Radulescu creates images that lodge themselves firmly in your consciousness, giving you ideas to ponder long after you turn the final page. In the tradition of Elena Ferrante and Khaled Hosseini, Country of Red Azaleas prevails as a true testament to a bond that transcends the devastation of war.