The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.
This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.
This weekend, we recommend an emotional trip to ’90s Croatia with Girl at War. You’ll meet Ana, a courageous heroine on a quest to reconnect with her heritage, her family, her old friends, and, ultimately, herself.
This affecting novel — set in the near and far past of Croatia — is a gripping look at the fallout of war and the lasting bonds of love, friendship, and loyalty.
We meet our heroine Ana when she’s 10 years old. She adores her father, her baby sister Rahela, and her best friend Luka. Ana and Luka, Luka and Ana, always together, running around the capital city of Zagreb with the singular abandon of children with lots of energy and no worries.
But that all changes when war comes to Yugoslavia.
Daily life becomes untenable: air raid drills, friends gone missing, sniper fire, a new feeling of us versus them. Ana eventually escapes to the U.S., where her tragic past becomes her biggest secret. She avoids the truth of her history, hiding it from everyone that’s important to her until it demands that she face it. She returns to Croatia to put old ghosts to rest.
This story has a quiet drama as it explores big themes — war, loyalty, love — through a very intimate, personal lens. Sara Nović’s writing is elegant, even poetic, but it has a forward momentum that keeps the pages turning. Ana is a compelling narrator, and seeing the war through her eyes makes it both more tolerable and more devastating.
Warning: You will fall in love with little Ana and unabashedly root for her as an adult. Along the way, you’ll be transported to Croatia: its vibrant capital, its beautiful coast, and the anguish of the Yugoslav wars.
I was gradually recalling those mundane moments — the ones that had until now given way to more traumatic memories — of a childhood governed by collective superstition: Never open two windows across from each other — the draft will give you pneumonia. Don’t sit at the corner of the table; you’ll never get married. Lighting a cigarette straight off a candle kills a sailor. Don’t cut your nails on a Sunday. If it hurts, put some rakija on it. — Sarah Nović
This coming-of-age war novel (368 pages) was published in May of 2015 by Random House. The book takes you to Croatia. Melissa read Girl at War and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.
Top image courtesy of Viktor Juric.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is ©2023 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.