respected NPR journalist and bestselling memoirist Scott Simon makes a dazzling
fiction debut. In Pretty Birds, Simon creates an intense, startling, and
tragicomic portrait of a classic charactera young woman in the besieged city of
Sarajevo in the early 1990s.
In the spring of 1992, Irena Zaric is a star on her Sarajevo high school
basketball team, a tough, funny teenager who has taught her parrot, Pretty Bird,
to do a decent imitation of a ball hitting a hoop. Irena wears her hair short
like k. d. lang's, and she loves Madonna, Michael Jordan, and Johnny Depp. But
while Irena rocks out and shoots baskets with her friends, her beloved city has
become a battleground. When the violence and terror of "ethnic cleansing"
against Muslims begins, Irena and her family, brutalized by Serb soldiers, flee
for safety across the river that divides the city.
If once Irena knew of war only from movies and history books, now she knows its
reality. She steals from the dead to buy food. She scuttles under windows in her
own home to dodge bullets. She risks her life to communicate with an old Serb
school friend and teammate. Even Pretty Bird has started to mimic the sizzle of
In a city starved for work, a former assistant principal offers Irena a vague
job, "duties as assigned," which she accepts. She begins by sweeping floors, but
soon, under the tutelage of a cast of rogues and heroes, she learns to be a
sniper, biding her time, never returning to the same perch, and searching her
targets for the "mist" that marks a successful shot. Ultimately, Irena's new
vocation will lead to complex and cataclysmic consequences for herself and those
As a journalist, Scott Simon covered the siege of Sarajevo. Here, in a novel as
suspenseful as a John le Carré thriller, he re-creates the atmosphere of that
place and time and the pain and dark humor of its people. Pretty Birds is a bold
departure, and the auspicious beginning of yet another brilliant career for its
Scott Simon, through his first hand experience of the Seige of Sarajevo, brings the people and the events to life in this extremely strong first novel. I recommend it to all adults, and also for older teens. (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
The Washington Post - Patrick Anderson
It is no insult to Simon's novelistic skill to say that his book's excellence rests finally on his reporter's eye and ear. Certainly the novel puts a compelling human face on what was learned about the siege from news reports at the time. The assault on Sarajevo was an ugly, unspeakably sad moment in recent history, and Simon's novel is a fine tribute to the heroes and victims who were his friends there.
Booklist - Vanessa Bush
Simon, who has covered the siege of Sarajevo for NPR, puts the events in a war-torn land into human perspective with memorable characters struggling with issues of ethnicity, survival, friendship, and betrayal.
A deeply felt, boldly told story and clean, forceful prose distinguish this striking first novel.
Library Journal - Mark Andr Singer Pretty Birds is far better than Jonathan Rabb's conspiracy thriller The Book of Q and Natasha Radojcic-Kane's more partisan and unrelentingly grim Homecoming. For a Croatian perspective, see Slavenka Drakulic's S.: A Novel About the Balkans. Highly recommended for all adult fiction collections.
A magnificent tribute, not just to the Sarajevans whose siege Simon reported, but to the indestructible human spirit.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by skreed You have no idea This book was brilliant, terrible and very affecting. The story of a high school girl living a normal life that suddenly and unexpectedly goes terribly terribly wrong...the process of her journey from innocence to assassin is not to be missed.
Scott Simon is the host of National Public Radio's Weekend
Edition with Scott Simon. He has covered ten wars (including the Sarajevo siege)
from El Salvador to Iraq, and has won every major award in broadcasting,
including the Peabody and the Emmy. His memoir, Home and Away, rose to the top of the Los Angeles Times
nonfiction bestseller list. His second book, Jackie Robinson and the
Integration of Baseball, was named Barnes & Noble's Sports Book of the Year.
He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.
Balkans is the historic and geographic name used to
South Eastern Europe. The region takes its name from
the Balkan mountains which run through the centre of the
area. It's a region of mountains and sea, and much
beauty. The 'Former Yugoslavian' countries are on the
Western side, mostly bordering the Adriatic Sea,...
Oct. 11th, 1943 - A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.
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Oldest romance writer in the world dies aged 105. Books #124 and #125 to be published next year(Dec 10 2013) Ida Pollock, author of more than 120 books, and believed to be the world's oldest romantic novelist, has died at the age of 105.