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Esad Jaganjac
The novel "Emir Mateo" was inspired by actual events describing the suffering and senselessness of the war in the Balkans in 1992 - 1995, in which the author and his family found themselves. It is a true event with real main characters, while the other characters are described according to the author's memory. The novel's main character is a twelve-year-old boy, Edvin, who finds himself with his family in the horror of the war on Blakan in besieged Sarajevo. Assassins used snipers and grenades to spread death over the citizens of Sarajevo in the period from 1992 to 1995. The boy's father finds a way to evacuate the rest of the family to the United Kingdom. At the same time, he remains to defend Bosnia from aggression from neighbouring Serbia and Croatia. However, evil fate catches up with Edvin even in exile. Due to the enormous stress and inability to understand the world around him, he becomes mentally ill, significantly increasing the family's tragedy. Edvin wants to tell his story very much, but because of his illness, he can't. That is why his father tells his tragic experience in this novel.
This autobiographical novel, Jaganjac’s first, blends family and national histories to tell the story of young Edvin and his family when war came to Sarajevo in the 1990s, a time when for Edvin the pleasures of youth—such as his crush on a girl named Meliha—were “stopped by grenades and sniper bullets by Karadžić and Milošević terrorists.” In April of 1992, as fighter jets circled above, a tank from the JNA (the Yugoslav People's Army) leveled its gun at the residential buildings in which Esad and Jasminka raised their family. The children, Edvin and Ernest, could make no sense of it: “Why would anyone want to kill them? What were they guilty of to God and the people?” More practical questions preoccupied the parents, especially how to protect their kids and several others “from shells, snipers, and hunger.”

Navigating a community that experiences snipers on the daily, plus artillery shell firings, the suspicions of the Serbian Counterintelligence Service, and the interference and indifference of international organizations like the UN and the World Health Organization, Emir Mateo showcases the resilience and courage it took to survive, plus the cultural and political tensions that led to the war, and—and how none of these lives were the same after. After much hardship and harrowing incident, the boys and their mother arrive in London, while father Esad fights for his homeland. Edvin must learn English and attend school in a new land, while facing potential crisis: signs of mental illness.

Eventually, Edvin is diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he’s at times institutionalized in England and eventually imprisoned in Bosnia, after the war, for intervening in a beating on the street. Emir Mateo somewhat choppily changes perspectives as it covers urgent history, and its form is uncertain. Affecting photos of the family suggest it’s a memoir, though dialogue and interiority is handled novelistically. While at times not an easy read, it still illuminates its subject with clarity and power.

Takeaway: A resilient family faces the horrors of the Bosnian war.

Comparable Titles: Kenan Trebincevic’s The Bosnia List, Colm Doyle’s Witness to War Crimes.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A-
Editing: B
Marketing copy: A-

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