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When she was twenty-three years old, Courtney Angela Brkic joined a UN-contracted forensic team in eastern Bosnia. Unlike many aid workers, Brkic was drawn there by her family history, and although fluent in the language, she was advised to avoid letting local workers discover her ethnicity. Her passionate narrative of establishing a morgue in a small town and excavating g When she was twenty-three years old, Courtney Angela Brkic joined a UN-contracted forensic team in eastern Bosnia. Unlike many aid workers, Brkic was drawn there by her family history, and although fluent in the language, she was advised to avoid letting local workers discover her ethnicity. Her passionate narrative of establishing a morgue in a small town and excavating graves at Srebenica is braided with her family's remarkable history in what was once Yugoslavia. The Stone Fields, deeply personal and wise, asks what it takes to prevent the violent loss of life, and what we are willing to risk in the process.


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When she was twenty-three years old, Courtney Angela Brkic joined a UN-contracted forensic team in eastern Bosnia. Unlike many aid workers, Brkic was drawn there by her family history, and although fluent in the language, she was advised to avoid letting local workers discover her ethnicity. Her passionate narrative of establishing a morgue in a small town and excavating g When she was twenty-three years old, Courtney Angela Brkic joined a UN-contracted forensic team in eastern Bosnia. Unlike many aid workers, Brkic was drawn there by her family history, and although fluent in the language, she was advised to avoid letting local workers discover her ethnicity. Her passionate narrative of establishing a morgue in a small town and excavating graves at Srebenica is braided with her family's remarkable history in what was once Yugoslavia. The Stone Fields, deeply personal and wise, asks what it takes to prevent the violent loss of life, and what we are willing to risk in the process.

30 review for The Stone Fields: Love and Death in the Balkans

  1. 5 out of 5

    Charles Matthews

    This review originally ran in the San Jose Mercury News on August 1, 2004: Many years ago, three friends and I wedged ourselves into a VW Beetle and set out to drive through what was then Yugoslavia to the Adriatic. We didn't know how wild and beautiful and strange and lonely much of the country was, or that we would ride for hours, hairpinning through green hills and barren ones, and seldom see another car or come upon a village or farm. And in the towns and cities, we naive Americans were surp This review originally ran in the San Jose Mercury News on August 1, 2004: Many years ago, three friends and I wedged ourselves into a VW Beetle and set out to drive through what was then Yugoslavia to the Adriatic. We didn't know how wild and beautiful and strange and lonely much of the country was, or that we would ride for hours, hairpinning through green hills and barren ones, and seldom see another car or come upon a village or farm. And in the towns and cities, we naive Americans were surprised to see minarets rising above the rooftops. We hadn't known that Yugoslavia had such a large Muslim population. Later, the whole world would know that -- and, terribly, much more. When that time came, and the names of places where I had been -- Dubrovnik,Jajce, Mostar, Sarajevo -- filled the news, I felt sadness and horror but also remorse: I had learned so little when I was there; I had passed through those places in the tourist's cocoon of ignorance. At least I was not one of those Americans who, in Courtney Angela Brkic's words, ''asked whether Croatia and Bosnia were in Latin America.'' But though my ignorance was lesser, it was still strong. ''Those savvy enough to know the region's geography would express surprise and confusion that the war had happened at all,'' Brkic writes. ''Yugoslavia had been an idyll, hadn't it? Where the past had been forgotten and people lived as brothers? I did not relish explaining, over and over again, that the past had never been forgotten, but merely buried.'' Brkic may not relish explaining that, but she has done so eloquently in ''The Stone Fields,'' trying to bring into emotional focus -- such things are beyond reason -- the hideousness that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, the rapes and torture and massacres, as well as the ignorance and indifference of the outside world. As her name suggests, Brkic is Croatian-American. Her father left Yugoslavia in 1959, and, she says, ''Like other new Americans who seek to reinvent themselves, he let weeds and dirt overtake the past.'' She was given the all-American name Courtney, along with an Americanized version of her grandmother's name, Andelka (pronounced ''Anjelka''). But as she notes, ''My father had been troubled when I started responding to the name Angela. I think it seemed to him a rejection of the safe life he had created for us in America.'' Trained as an archaeologist, Brkic went to Bosnia in 1996 to work with a forensic team of the Physicians for Human Rights that was unearthing mass graves and attempting to identify the bodies. ''My father did not know that I had come to Bosnia,'' she tells us, ''and the knowledge would have eaten away at him.'' Part of the book is about Brkic's work on the grim task of identification, handling human remains and working in fields that had been land-mined. It was work that took both a physical and psychological toll. She came to be bothered by a burning sensation in one of her fingers. ''I had the terrible feeling that a splinter of bone from one of the bodies had made its way into me and lay buried under my skin.'' But the book is also about her grandmother, Andelka. Brkic has always been ''a stubborn demander of stories,'' she tells us, and from the stories told by her father and her aunts, she has crafted a fascinating account of her grandmother's life -- one ruled by the unresolved tensions of her country's violent history. ''Politics is a whore,'' Andelka would say, bitter at the sway it held over her life. She was born in Herzegovina, orphaned at 14, and married at 16. Soon after their marriage, she and her husband were exiled to a remote village by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia because he was a follower of a Croatian nationalist. Andelka gave birth to four children, two of whom survived, before her husband died of typhoid when she was 21. Not wanting to live the life of a self-denying village widow, she moved to Sarajevo with her two small sons, Bero and Zoran. In Sarajevo, she fell in love with Josef Finci, who was Jewish. With the coming of the Nazi occupation, Andelka was arrested for hiding Josef, who was sent to a concentration camp. Twelve-year-old Bero and 10-year-old Zoran were left on their own for weeks -- a neighbor looked in on them and fed them -- until Andelka was released. They never saw Josef again. After the war, chaos was succeeded by the regimentation of communism, but the country's ethnic tensions were only repressed, not resolved. Andelka ''had endured her own life,'' Brkic writes. ''This impossible country had undermined her.'' So she urged Bero and Zoran to leave: '' 'Get out while you still can,' she told them. 'And don't come back.' '' For Brkic, a tension remains between Andelka's ''impossible country'' and the ''safe life'' her father, Bero, had tried to create for her. And her desire to understand overcomes her need for security. In Zagreb, she has an affair with Stjepan, who has served in the army and seen terrible things. She tells him that her father would like to come back -- ''a piece of him is always here'' -- but would find the adjustment difficult after growing used to life in America. ''This troubled him. Stjepan had, afterall, fought for the right of people like my father to come back permanently, to reclaim their lives.'' But deep conflicts about his country also trouble Stjepan, who is prone to nightmares. Their relationship sours to an end. The buried past will not stay buried. ''The Stone Fields'' has a haunting, lyrical economy. Brkic wonderfully blends precise depictions of a harsh land and hard lives with a deep and sympathetic understanding of what people have endured. Added to this is a keen self-awareness that never becomes self-indulgence. It's a book designed to banish ignorance, and it goes a long way toward its goal.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Eadie

    Courtney Angela Brkic describes her personal experiences as an anthropologist exhuming genocide victims at Srebrenica and the book helped me to better understand the trauma from the war in Bosnia.The story is beautifully written and provides interesting insights into the lives of people from a different culture and of the tensions that eventually led to the tragedy at Srebrenica. By also including her grandmother's story from Nazi occupied Yugoslavia it also helped show how many struggles this r Courtney Angela Brkic describes her personal experiences as an anthropologist exhuming genocide victims at Srebrenica and the book helped me to better understand the trauma from the war in Bosnia.The story is beautifully written and provides interesting insights into the lives of people from a different culture and of the tensions that eventually led to the tragedy at Srebrenica. By also including her grandmother's story from Nazi occupied Yugoslavia it also helped show how many struggles this region has gone through. The most heartbreaking part of the story is the deep, abiding affection between Ms. Brkic's Catholic grandmother, Andelka, and her Jewish lover, Joseph, who died in a Nazi concentration camp. I look forward to reading another of Brkic's works as I find her prose to be very poetic. I highly recommend this book to those who are interested in reading about the Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Phyllis

    For me The Stone Fields revealed the unnecessariness of hatred and its path to evil and inhumane acts. I had to put the book down many times while reading it because the story and the history behind the story is so upsetting. Genocide and ethnic cleansing has been part of every culture and continent. I used to scoff at John Lennon's song Imagine, but after reading this book I can see why he wanted to imagine such things as "no religion or possessions, nothing to die for," etc. I've always discou For me The Stone Fields revealed the unnecessariness of hatred and its path to evil and inhumane acts. I had to put the book down many times while reading it because the story and the history behind the story is so upsetting. Genocide and ethnic cleansing has been part of every culture and continent. I used to scoff at John Lennon's song Imagine, but after reading this book I can see why he wanted to imagine such things as "no religion or possessions, nothing to die for," etc. I've always discounted the song because I feel very patriotic about being American. Lately citizens in our country have been fighting bitterly over immigration and religious issues, and hateful things have been said. Children are killing other children. Terroist acts have started to occur on our home soil. So my patriotism is not about exclusion but more about inclusion; like The Stone Fields clearly says, America is about freedom - to say what you want, to read what books you want, to work what job you want, to go to what college you want - freedom to choose; the more money you have, the more choices you have. The American Dream is to make money to have more choices and freedom. I want that freedom to be available to anyone who wants it, the way it has been available to my ancestors and immigrants before me. In The Stone Fields, the female narrator's voice is sharp and real, her actions are terrifingly dangerous at times, and her emotions cut deep into all our human genes. She speaks universal truths good for the ages. Recommended for readers with strong hearts, minds, and stomachs. A caution to readers with PTSD.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I enjoyed the book for Courtney's rawness and vulnerability. When it comes to war, well--war crimes-- it's always best to try to understand the atrocity from a subjective viewpoint. How can one do work to identify bodies from mass graves without deep affect? And how can one read about such work without being affected? This part of her story, as well as the parts about her Grandmother (historical context), were very well-written and moving. The only "complaint" I would posit is that the patchwork- I enjoyed the book for Courtney's rawness and vulnerability. When it comes to war, well--war crimes-- it's always best to try to understand the atrocity from a subjective viewpoint. How can one do work to identify bodies from mass graves without deep affect? And how can one read about such work without being affected? This part of her story, as well as the parts about her Grandmother (historical context), were very well-written and moving. The only "complaint" I would posit is that the patchwork-style of the book's construction actually diminished its effect. It was too scattered at times and seemed a bit random/unorganized. The transitions were not always too smooth.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sonam

    I realized I had been completely unaware of the things happening in Herzegovina-Bosnia after I read the book. It was sad to learn what happened.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    Beautifully written memoir of the author's search for family roots while exhuming mass graves in Bosnia. Beautifully written memoir of the author's search for family roots while exhuming mass graves in Bosnia.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    At first I liked the family history parts of Brkic's story, rather than her relating of her archeological work in Bosnia. However, that work became an integral part of her story. As with her fiction, Brkic is a gifted, descriptive writer; I really enjoyed her words. The Stone Fields tell of the author's work is Bosnia, sifting through remains of the 1990's war. Interspersed is her own family history - her grandmother's story in the 1940's and her father's, before he emigrated to the United States At first I liked the family history parts of Brkic's story, rather than her relating of her archeological work in Bosnia. However, that work became an integral part of her story. As with her fiction, Brkic is a gifted, descriptive writer; I really enjoyed her words. The Stone Fields tell of the author's work is Bosnia, sifting through remains of the 1990's war. Interspersed is her own family history - her grandmother's story in the 1940's and her father's, before he emigrated to the United States. Croatian grandmother Andelka had a hard life from the very beginning, enduring the loss of her parents, babies, husband, and lover. Her hope stemmed from her two sons, Bero (the author's father) and Zoran. I liked that the author included a family tree, map, pronunciation guide, which I referred back to often. "In the villages, women endured a lifetime of their men's absence. There were sporadic visits home, frequently resulting in pregnancies, and wives were left to raise the children as best they could. They followed a cycle of childbirth and death, fasting and holy days, ant the women grew bent as they tilled the dry dirt of their fields alone. They were fiercely Catholic, and their belief was the balm that soothed the wounds of this life, promising an end to hardship in the life to come." (62) "My favorite meal is lamb. It is a preference imprinted in our Dinaric mountain genes...The best lamb spends a lifetime grazing on chamomile. The yellow, fragrant hearts of the plant scent the fat." (101) "A Croatian adage says, 'You should drink water after nobody, wine after some people, and hard liquor after everyone.'" (104) "On April 10, 1941, the Independent State of Croatia, a fascist dictatorship under Ante Pavelic, was declared. The kingdom was dissolved. Pavelic, or poglavnik [chief], as he was to be known, wasted no time in instituting racist policies. He and his Ustasas, a formerly fringe fascist group, had spend years of exile in Italy. He immediately ceded vast portions of Dalmatia to Italy, preferring to maintain control over 'historically' Croatian territories, which included Bosnia-Herzegovina." (150) "When the archbishop of Sarajevo, Ivan Saric, began his rants about the Jews, she [grandmother Andelka] decided never again to enter the cathedral when he held Mass. In her eyes, he was a degenerate who worshipped a God different from hers... The Ustasa wer known for never asking for mercy and never showing it, and Saric was their mascot, with the entire weight of the Roman Catholic Church falling squarely behind him." (174) "There is a selfishness to love. Something that tricks the self into believing that the slate can be wiped clean, that the dead will stand meekly by and forfeit their haunting of us. That they will be evicted like the sund dislodges shadow." (272) "Then there is the wind that blows only over there. The maestral, wich sighs in the evenings, lifting strands of hair and making them float as if you were underwater. A jugo is a warm wind that comes from the south, bringing debris to the shore. The mightiest is the bura, a cold wind from the north that can blow with such ferocity that bridges and roads are closed...It is the cleanest of winds, whisking stale sky away and replacing it with air so pure that its crystal brightness hurts the eyes. But while it blows, it attacks shutters, roofs, and windows and makes sounds like human suffering." (273) "'To be a woman over there was to suffer,' he [her father] would tell me cryptically. 'To suffer abuse, to be alone. To outlive the people who should have outlived you.'" (277) "For my father, America represented safety as well as freedom. Of all he has achieved in his life, the birth of his children as Americans is what he is most proud of." (280) "I accepted that I could never really know my grandmother. I could reconstruct the facts of her life and even find some truths in them, but the dead are lost, and it is not within our means to bring them back." (305)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    Very informative, sobering account of the author's involvement in collecting and cataloging the remains of those massacred in the Balkan countries after the latest wars. The author weaves her personal family stories of those who lived in these lands with the actual events, and the aftermath. Very informative, sobering account of the author's involvement in collecting and cataloging the remains of those massacred in the Balkan countries after the latest wars. The author weaves her personal family stories of those who lived in these lands with the actual events, and the aftermath.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rhonda

    Author goes to Eastern Bosnia one year after the massacres. She is an archaeologist who will dig bodies out of mass graves, a member of a UN-led team. Though she talks about her work, much of the book is devoted to her fleeting childhood memories of visiting the country where her parents grew up, her father's childhood, and her interactions with extended family. Author goes to Eastern Bosnia one year after the massacres. She is an archaeologist who will dig bodies out of mass graves, a member of a UN-led team. Though she talks about her work, much of the book is devoted to her fleeting childhood memories of visiting the country where her parents grew up, her father's childhood, and her interactions with extended family.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jen Crichton

    This is book is about a young American woman with family from Herzegovina who joins a United Nations team working in Bosnia after the war. Her first job is to transcribe the memories of the survivors and then later she works at recovering the corpses from Srebrenica where thousands of people were slaughtered in 1995 whilst the UN watched helplessly. What begins as a factual account of the author’s work with the UN, gradually segues into a parallel account of the life of the author’s grandmother, This is book is about a young American woman with family from Herzegovina who joins a United Nations team working in Bosnia after the war. Her first job is to transcribe the memories of the survivors and then later she works at recovering the corpses from Srebrenica where thousands of people were slaughtered in 1995 whilst the UN watched helplessly. What begins as a factual account of the author’s work with the UN, gradually segues into a parallel account of the life of the author’s grandmother, first growing up in Herzegovina and then later in Sarajevo during World War II. The author and her grandmother’s experiences are interspersed throughout the book in separate chapters. Whilst this sounds like a strange combination, it actually works effectively, highlighting how hatred based on ethnicity and religion continues to cause as much destruction as it did during WWII. My only thought is it is a very personal book so I do not know if it presents a balanced view of events.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    I've held off writing a review because I didn't know if I could adequately express how much I loved this book and why. Normally I would stay clear of a book that included history of atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia. I often read to escape. But this author's beautiful writing gave me no choice but to read this memoir. Despite events, I found this book oddly uplifting and I attribute that in great part to the author's artistry--her ability to bring you into the historical events, her I've held off writing a review because I didn't know if I could adequately express how much I loved this book and why. Normally I would stay clear of a book that included history of atrocities committed in the former Yugoslavia. I often read to escape. But this author's beautiful writing gave me no choice but to read this memoir. Despite events, I found this book oddly uplifting and I attribute that in great part to the author's artistry--her ability to bring you into the historical events, her life, and family history so that you feel them, and to make the real life tragedies and small triumphs worth sharing. I am awed by the author's talent.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Easily one of the best books I've ever read. The voice is open, vulnerable, and authentic. Brkic weaves family history, her own experiences, and history into a story that is heartbreaking, but also immeasurably important. So many know about the Holocaust, but so few know about other genocides. Brkic pinks the Holocaust and the Srebrinicia massacre in a very personal way, and makes it accessible to those who don't know. It also makes me want to read more about the Balkans. Despite a history class Easily one of the best books I've ever read. The voice is open, vulnerable, and authentic. Brkic weaves family history, her own experiences, and history into a story that is heartbreaking, but also immeasurably important. So many know about the Holocaust, but so few know about other genocides. Brkic pinks the Holocaust and the Srebrinicia massacre in a very personal way, and makes it accessible to those who don't know. It also makes me want to read more about the Balkans. Despite a history class in the region, I feel like there is so much to learn.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kristi

    Very few books can leave such an impact. This book describes the author's journey into her ancestry and the modern conflicts that plagued the former Yugoslavian republics in the 1990s. Her prose is delicate and emotional and from the very first page it left me breathless. Three parts biography and one part anthropological study. This is a book I keep lending out and never get back! Very few books can leave such an impact. This book describes the author's journey into her ancestry and the modern conflicts that plagued the former Yugoslavian republics in the 1990s. Her prose is delicate and emotional and from the very first page it left me breathless. Three parts biography and one part anthropological study. This is a book I keep lending out and never get back!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    This book is not for the faint-hearted. It's tough to get through at times and you will most likely get angry. It's a story that had to be told though. And it's so interesting to see a conflict through the eyes of someone who grew up in it. This book is not for the faint-hearted. It's tough to get through at times and you will most likely get angry. It's a story that had to be told though. And it's so interesting to see a conflict through the eyes of someone who grew up in it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    A powerful account of Brkic's experiences - in part as a forensic archaeologist - in Bosnia. Brkic describes some of the same exhumations and incidents as does Clea Koff in "The Bone Woman," but her account is much more emotional, direct, and engaging. A powerful account of Brkic's experiences - in part as a forensic archaeologist - in Bosnia. Brkic describes some of the same exhumations and incidents as does Clea Koff in "The Bone Woman," but her account is much more emotional, direct, and engaging.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lboogiepeace

    I've owned this book for over a year, I really need to bump it up on the priority list. I've owned this book for over a year, I really need to bump it up on the priority list.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Fantastic. If the ending was a bit unexpected and out-of-sense with the rest, that was no matter: Brkic's language and deep empathy were emphatic and moving. Fantastic. If the ending was a bit unexpected and out-of-sense with the rest, that was no matter: Brkic's language and deep empathy were emphatic and moving.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Faye S.

    Wonderful and moving.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Luana

  20. 5 out of 5

    Leannekahn

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Chappell

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Mason

  23. 5 out of 5

    Gavin

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kara

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lu

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matilda

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Allen

  28. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

  29. 5 out of 5

    Edwina

  30. 4 out of 5

    Maryann Kandlik

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