Excerpt from Pretty Birds by Scott Simon, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Pretty Birds

by Scott Simon

Pretty Birds
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  • First Published:
    May 2005, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2006, 368 pages

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The commander rather expected a smile to follow. But Karadzic's face stayed stony. The commander was replaced in Sarajevo within a few weeks. The Knight continued his morning recital.

"And what do you do with those slim tubes of condensed French army milk left over from Algeria?" he asked. "They look like toothpaste. Oh, wait—why would you need toothpaste when you have no food, and no water? Civilized people use toothpaste. But all these Muslims swarming into town from the hills squat on the floor to go to the toilet. Hand them a tube of toothpaste and they would probably just squirt it up their ass."

The Knight then took his voice down a notch until it was low and slow.

"Well, Muslims, savor your crumbs. Our boys are coming over to party tonight. While you're in bed, unable to sleep, they will sneak around those young boys and girls and all the old men who are your sentries. Do you think the Frenchies will stop us? They will turn their blue helmets around and face the other way. The United Nations are united in being scared. Serbs are warriors, not faggots. We will track down all the rag-heads, Jew-lovers, and Gypsy whores. We will shake them out of their beds and then take them from behind. Oooh-aaah! Oooh-aaah! They like that! People who squat on their heels to shit must like it up the ass. Our boys will wring your necks like fragile birds. We'll pour your blood into a silver Jew's cup and drink it like plum wine. Tonight, we Serbs will eat roast duck, golden potatoes, and rich red beets," and here, underneath the Knight's voice, she could hear Phil Collins beginning to sing. She calls out to the man in the street. . . .

"But we will leave room in our gullets," the Knight went on over the music, drawing out each syllable almost dreamily. "We will leave room for your homes, your jewels, your televisions and cars. Your wives and daughters. Oh, think twice!" he joined in imprecisely with Phil Collins's rasp. "It's just another day in paradise. . . ."

Sometimes, Irena thought, you have to listen to an awful lot of crap just to get to the music.

A pigeon flapped onto Irena's head, flexing its claws in the chain stitch of her black ski mask, one-two, one-two, like a disco step. The matchstick-thin pink toenails that she found so exquisitely petite and endearing cut sharply into her scalp, one-two, one-two. Irena cursed the sociability of pigeons as another flapped in.

"Damn birds," she muttered. "Damn pretty birds. Do you think I'm hiding a pile of breadcrumbs?" Beneath her ski mask, a slick of sweat began to sting.

The sky continued to lighten. Irena began to pick out small, inadvertent glints in the dim landscape across the way. She saw a cat drowsing in front of a shade drawn down on a windowsill. A man had lit a candle without realizing the board he had pressed over his doorframe had a crack that let through a splinter of light.

The Miljacka River, which used to tie the city together like a ribbon, now divided it like the edge of a serrated knife. Grbavica apartments looked north over the wiry green river, into the Ottoman-age monuments and minarets on what had become the Bosnian slice of the city: the ruins of the National Library, the old synagogue, the main Serbian church, and the city's central mosque. Apartment buildings in Grbavica had been posh addresses just a few months ago. Officers of the Yugoslav National Army had appropriated many of them (for only Communism, not favoritism, had fallen in Yugoslavia).

Excerpted from Pretty Birds by Scott Simon Copyright © 2005 by Scott Simon. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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