Sarajevo and after

Some passages in my first book, “Lemprière’s Dictionary” were set in 1787-8 within the second of three Austro-Turkic wars fought in and around the country later known as Yugoslavia. Just over two hundred years later, in autumn 1992, I found myself in Vienna talking to Karl Wendl, a reporter on NEWS magazine who was covering the latest conflict. We found that our respective wars had much in common and he invited me to go with him on a planned trip to Serbia later that month. I agreed but in the interim the situation changed so, with the photographer Riccardo Herrgott, we went instead to Sarajevo. The whole trip lasted only five days but it made a deep impression. I had never been in a war before and I wrote about that experience and the situation in Bosnia for NEWS. The piece was titled “Die letzten Tage” but of course it wasn’t the last days at all. The next year, 1993, the situation was worse and I revisited my report, writing a more general piece for the ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ edition of Granta. The ‘Sack of Prato’ section of “The Pope’s Rhinoceros” was directly inspired by events I had witnessed in and around Sarajevo, and I drew on those experiences again when writing about the treatment of the Jews in Czernowitz in “In the Shape of a Boar”. I followed the war until its ‘end’ which was marked by the Dayton agreement in 1996. A decade later, the Leipzig Book Fair invited me to give a talk on the anniversary of the Dayton Accords.

Karl Wendl, myself and a tank. Sarajevo, November 1992. Photo: Riccardo Herrgott