A debut novel from the Croatian aspiring young writer Antonio Barišić.
Two best friends, Branko and Krešo are leading a carefree, happy life in their hometown of Šibenik. It is their last year of high school and they are determined to spend it in a best way possible. Concerts, lazying around, smoking pot and falling in love are only a few of their main occupations. The worst thing that can happen to them is getting an F in school and/or being scolded by their parents. Those were the innocent years...
As the school year ended, the tensions in the country started. Their country of Yugoslavia was falling apart. They didn't know much about it and they couldn't care less for politics until it started to affect them in their own hometown and in their own homes. Branko's father was from Serbia and Krešo was Croat. They were neighbors and best friends since they were toddlers. They never thought of themselves as different in one way or the other. When the tensions became high and everyone was preparing for war, suddenly, nationality was everything that seem to matter to people. Croats suddenly became great nationalists and the Serbs were mostly fleeing from Croatia in fear and/or to join the Serbian army.
Two friends were swimming against the current for as long as they could. They knew each other, they knew they didn't change overnight. But their fathers were different. Branko's father was colliding with the Serbs and Krešo's father was a part of the Croatian army. They will force their sons to follow in their footsteps and ultimately destroy their lives.
Branko will be forced to leave Šibenik for Knin (which was held by the Serbs at the time) and Krešo will be forced to cut all contacts with his Serbian friend and will finally join the Croatian army. Branko won't stay in Knin for long because he had no intention to join any army or engage in any kind of conflict. He will leave for Beograd, the capital of Serbia, and enroll in college in which he has no interest in and ultimately become involved with drugs of every kind.
The novel starts kind of slow. We follow a group of friends having a good time and dreaming about a better future. They were all innocent and naive and they believed the politics will never reach them in their hometown. The characters are portrayed as normal, goofy teenagers who even with not having much are satisfied to just be around each other.
When a girl becomes involved with Krešo, the whole group takes her in. She becomes one of them. And those will be the happiest years for every single one of them.
With one misunderstanding and a whole lot of tensions around, the group will fall apart. As the war will start they will spread across three different countries, one half of the world away and they won't see each other for a long time.
This novel brings to life a beautiful story about friendship which might transcend time and space (but that is the ending and I won't spoil it for you). Despite friendship being strong and long lasting, it won't be able to survive the war. Two friends will find themselves on two opposite sides without having any real intention of being there.
As the time will pass by their lives will be going in two completely different directions. Branko will choose a college only to escape his father and the dire situation in Croatia and when he will finally get there he will escape all of the reality in the world of drugs. Krešo, on the other hand, will join the Croatian army after the Serbian attack on his hometown and he will be subsequently imprisoned and tortured by someone he knew all of his life.
The local story about two boys trying to find their place in this world grows and changes into one of sad choices and tragic destinies amidst the bloody and ruthless war which will throw them into the world of the adults into conflict they don't believe in.
Their lives will never be the same and their spirits will crush under all that weight and loneliness.
The story itself is very fluent and easy to follow but that doesn't mean it has no meaning. On the contrary. This story makes a large effort to demonstrate how pointless and futile any war or conflict is. And just how devastating. Even for those who survive. All of those who are somehow involved in it, by their own will or are forced, will never get out of it intact.
The author had tried really hard to not force any of his opinions into this novel. This novel consequently takes no sides and tries not to moralize or justify anything. It only brings out one universal lesson that war is pointless. And it brings it out in the best way possible. Through the story of two teenagers who start as a stubborn but naive and happy bunch and end as a tired, broken, wounded people who feel much older than their years show. They went into the war because they were eighteen and entitled to but no teenager should ever be allowed to participate in such a devastating matter. It will ruin them on the inside and steal whatever goodness and happiness they had left.
For those people, those who survive, war will never be over. In their heads and in their hearts, war will rage on until the day they die.