Friday, 4 December 2020

The Courtyard Children by Marija Poljak

The Courtyard Children by Marija Poljak
Published by Rhiza Edge on the 15th October 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An #ownvoices story featuring powerful themes of love, friendship, war, identity and forgiveness.

Mileva’s family tree includes resistance fighters and patriots, and she was raised on the values of brotherhood and unity. Marko was born into a family where love is earned, not given, and was branded early on as a troublemaker and a lost cause.
Despite their differences, the two grow to become best friends.
Yet as the 1990s approach, Yugoslavia begins to crumble and ethnic tensions arise. No longer inseparable, their different cultural backgrounds force Mileva and Marko apart.
Through tragic events Mileva struggles to make sense of her identity as she attempts to salvage all that is left of the life and love she once had.

The Courtyard Children is a historical fiction novel, but its first person narration and the ring of authenticity throughout actually made me feel as though I was reading an engaging autobiography. Poljak's evocation of 1980s Yugoslavian life is wonderfully vivid and I was immediately drawn into the story. At its heart, this is a coming of age tale with Mileva's childish ignorance of Yugoslavia's growing nationalist cracks providing a powerfully foreboding atmosphere, especially once we readers become aware that her best friend, Marko's, family are as fervently in support of Croatian national purity as Mileva's family are of Pan-Yugoslavian unity. Mileva might have grown up on the beautiful - and beautifully portrayed - Croatian Dalmatia coast, but her ethnic ancestry marks her out as a Serb.

I read the brilliant The Cellist Of Sarajevo years ago which is set right in the heart of that city during the 1990s war. Mileva also, briefly, finds herself in Sarajevo at the same time. The Courtyard Children provides insights into what led up to the explosion of violence across the country, or countries as they are now. It is an important illustration from the past of how easily human society can devolve into antagonistic factions and a vital lesson to observe in our current divided world with Brexit arrogance in England and Trumpism in the USA. Overall though this is a novel of childhood friendship and how only some of those youthful bonds remain strong enough to withstand the adult world. I loved spending time with Mileva. She is a flawed yet utterly believable character swept up into events over which she has absolutely no control. Poljak has a deep understanding of the relationships between her characters and I think this makes The Courtyard Children such a compelling read. 

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Marija Poljak / Historical fiction / Books from Serbia

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