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Roger Cohen of The New York Times takes us to the core of one of the twentieth century's most complex stories, weaving together the history of Yugoslavia and the story of the Bosnian War of 1992 to 1995, as experienced by four families.
"I have tried to treat the story of Yugoslavia, which lived for seventy-three years, as a human one," Cohen writes in his book, which, like Thomas Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem and David Remnick's Lenin's Tomb, makes us eyewitnesses at the center of historic events.
In the aftermath of the Cold War, the Bosnian conflict shattered the West's confidence, reviving Europe's darkest ghosts and exposing an America reluctant to confront or acknowledge an act of genocide on European soil. Through Cohen's compelling reconstruction of the twentieth-century history that led up to the war, and his account of the war's effect on everyday lives, we at last find the key to understanding Europe's most explosive region and its peoples.
"This was a war of intimate betrayals," Cohen goes on to say, and in Hearts Grown Brutal, the betrayals begin in the family of a man named Sead. Through his search for his lost father, we relive the history of Yugoslavia, founded at the end of World War I with the encouragement of President Woodrow Wilson. Sead's desperate quest is punctuated by the lies, half truths, and pain that mark other sagas of Yugoslavia. Through three more families—one Muslim-Serb, one Muslim, and one Serb-Croat—we experience the war in Bosnia as it breaks up marriages and sets relative against relative. The reality of the Balkans is illuminated, even as the hypocrisy of the international response to the war is exposed.
Hearts Grown Brutal is a remarkable book, a testament to the loss of a multi-ethnic European state and a warning that the violence could return.
"Extraordinary.... A stunning accomplishment.... He is the first writer to capture fully the sense of inconsolable sorrow and stony anger that those who watched as Bosnia was destroyed will carry with us to our graves.... Mr. Cohen has succeeded in writing a history of the Bosnian war from the rise of Serb and Croat nationalism before the breakup of Yugoslavia, through the war itself, down to the situation in Bosnia in the wake of the Dayton Peace Agreement that brought the fighting to an end—at least temporarily. His book is a fierce indictment of the West's failure and of the United Nations' dishonorable role in Bosnia"
—David Rieff, The New York Observer
"A book of tremendous power . . . This is much more than a reporter's book about a bloody war in the Balkans. It is literature."
"With the Bosnian war several years behind us, there has been a spate of books by journalists and diplomats. Hearts Grown Brutal stands out among them. For the general reader seeking insightful, eloquent journalism as well as the historical background necessary for understanding Yugoslavia, Cohen's book is essential reading.... A piercing study of the facts and myths that led to the destruction of multiethnic Yugoslav communities."
"Roger Cohen had the heart and took the time to comprehend what the Yugoslav wars finally meant to the families who endured them and were broken by them. From their painful stories, he has produced this masterwork, as eloquent as it is infuriating. Hearts Grown Brutal expresses the Yugoslav tragedy like no book before it."
—Tom Gjelten, diplomatic correspondent, National Public Radio, and author of Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper Under Siege