Zlata’s Diary was written by Zlata Filipović and translated by Christina Pribichevich-Zorić (Puffin).
Today I’m reviewing a book which first appeared in English in 1994, 25 years ago. It perhaps seems strange to be recommending a book from such a long time ago, but through Zlata’s Diary there are lessons that can still be learnt all this time later.
Zlata began writing her diary on 2nd September 1991. In a newspaper article from 2012, she explains: “I wanted it to be funny, like Adrian Mole.” Instead of a humorous diary, it turned into a vivid testament of war from a child’s perspective.
In the introduction by Channel 4 news presenter and journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy, he tells of visiting Zlata in Sarajevo in 1993 when he was reporting for BBC’s Newsround (you can watch the video clip here). He refers to a calendar hanging on her wall, frozen at 5 April 1992. For Zlata, that was “the day that time stood still.”
Her diary tells of the physical suffering of war, of the relentless shelling, food and water shortages, days without electricity and gas and the freezing cold winters. She also talks of the pain of separation, of friends and family fleeing the city while she and her family remained. There is also the horror of death and destruction, young friends being killed: “A disgusting war has destroyed a young child’s life.”
At one point in the diary, she takes inspiration from Anne Frank’s wartime diary and gives her faithful friend a name, Mimmy. At the time, she would not perhaps have imagined that her words might one day be compared to Anne Frank’s famous testimony. Indeed, there are moments in the book where she herself refers to Anne Frank, determined not to suffer the same fate.
At times, Zlata talks about the apparently mundane – what she’s watched on TV, what pieces she’s learning to play on the piano – but she also becomes philosophical with sentiments that still ring true today:
“It looks to me as though these politics mean Serbs, Croats and Muslims. But they are all people. They are all the same. They all look like people, there’s no difference. They all have arms, legs and heads, they walk and talk, but now there’s ‘something’ that wants to make them different … Among the good there are Serbs and Croats and Muslims, just as there are among the bad.”
In the end, it is keeping her diary which offers Zlata and her family a way out of Sarajevo. After publication of her diary in France, she is visited by numerous members of the press, who eventually manage to secure safe passage for Zlata and her family to France. In this, I was reminded of Bana Alabad’s testament about the siege of Aleppo in Syria and how due to her tweeting from within the siege, the world became aware of her suffering.
Such testaments by children are so powerful and remind us that in war it is often innocent children who suffer for the ideals of others:
“Us kids are not playing, we are living in fear, we are suffering, we are not enjoying the sun and flowers, we are not enjoying our childhood. WE ARE CRYING.”
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