Book Review: My Childhood Under Fire

Reading Level

Ages 9-12

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The world is full of such horrible things that we like to think that children are somehow spared from exposure to them. Yet young people are surprisingly perceptive and aware of what is going on around them, whether they want to know about them or not. One of the most harrowing experiences for young people to go through in recent memory—indeed for adults to go through as well—was the horrendous serious of atrocities in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and other places in the former Yugoslavia.

My Childhood Under Fire is the story of young Nadja Halilbegovich, who was 12 when the war began in her beloved Sarajevo. The book takes the form of diary entries, which are reprints of the words that young Nadja wrote faithfully for a handful of years while the world fell apart around her. The matter-of-fact way in which she writes about things such as genocide and the murder of children speaks to the tragedies that she witnessed. She sees her friends and neighbors killed (literally), and she herself is injured and nearly paralyzed at one point.

Nadja's family endures the loss of a steady food supply, electricity, and finally water. Through it all, they hold onto one another, which is, in the end, all they have left. "World, wake up and help us!" she implores in one diary entry, lamenting the continuation of the killings without reprisals from other countries.

Bombings, firing squads, assassinations—all these things became unsurprising in the handful of years that the war lasted, killing tens of thousands of people along the way of all ages. Through it all, Nadja records her hopes and dreams and everyday occurrences. Remarkably, she finds hope in the smallest of things, like the appearance of a rainbow after a sudden storm. She enjoys school, when it is open, because it is one way that she gets to see her friends.

The ending is a happy one for Nadja, in that she survives and escapes to America. She leaves behind her family and a network of friends and neighbors. The war took a monstrous toll on Sarajevo and other cities before it ended, and this book is Nadja's way of keeping alive the memory of those who died simply because they were living where they were.

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David White