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

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Pretty Birds

by Scott Simon

Pretty Birds
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2005, 368 pages
    May 2006, 368 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

But now the national army had been converted—guns, tanks, and officers—into the Bosnian Serb Army, which had quickly captured two-thirds of Bosnia. Most army officers and their families saw no need to live like the people they were shooting across the way, crouching below shattered windows in shot-out rooms. Many Serb military families had moved out of range, to country places in the resort towns nearby. But scavengers, thieves, and Serb refugees had come to squat in Grbavica apartment blocks, alongside Serb snipers.

Across the way, Irena observed certain rules. She had been taught a few, and kept a few more for herself. Tedic, her chief, had told her not to shoot at children. The morals were dubious and the publicity devastating. On her own, Irena had determined that she would not shoot at pets. Tedic had instructed her not to shoot at grandmothers, and when she'd wondered if grandfathers were included by the same logic, he had reminded her that Milosevic and Karadzic could have grandchildren.

Tedic had also directed Irena not to shoot at squatters. He said they weren't worth the waste of a bullet, or the risk of revealing herself. Serbs reviled squatters as bothersome bumpkins and pests; their loss would cause no inconvenience or remorse.

"Why should we clean out their rats' nests?" he asked.

Irena decided that she would not shoot at someone who looked like Sting, the Princess of Wales, or Katarina Witt. She wanted to be able to enjoy looking at their pictures without seeing ghosts. She would not shoot at someone who was already wounded, though she would judge if someone limped because he had truly been wounded or because he had jammed his toe kicking a plugged-up toilet.

Irena knew that Tedic would have a score of sensible objections to each of her rules. What if Serb snipers started tucking puppies under their arms? What if a Serb mortar team carried a little ginger cat as their mascot? Would she shrink from firing at a Serb setting off an artillery piece if he had eyebrows like Katarina Witt? Irena kept her rules in confidence so that she could not be reasoned out of them. She already knew that when the bullets she fired singed the air, they sailed under their own authority.

"Two facts to keep in mind," Tedic had told Irena when she began work. "They are always up. We are always down." The Serbs and their heavy guns inhabited the hills. The Bosnians of Sarajevo looked up into those guns from the valley into which their city was tucked—or trapped—along the river.

When Irena looked across into the landscape of windows and balconies where she had once lived, she imagined that she could make out bowls of glistening hard-boiled eggs, glossy brass pots of strong black coffee, and stout platters of fat brown sausages, passed between the dirty hands of brutes.

Sometimes she could steady her sight and see little curlicues of pink or blue petals dappling the family pottery. She imagined what it would be like for a Serb family to sit at their table listening to the Knight. She liked to picture their surprise when a loud snap smacked through their window and punctured their coffeepot. She saw a brown downpour splash against the wall, runny as blood, while the family scrambled under the table. The sausages would go down like blasted ships, the lacy ivory tablecloth would tear as the young son dived, grasping at the scalloped stitching for covering. Irena imagined delicately tapping out their telephone number. The family's phone would quiver slightly as it trilled in the window (most phones in Serb territory worked), a trembling hand scrambling up for the receiver.

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.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
  • Book Jacket: So Say the Fallen
    So Say the Fallen
    by Stuart Neville
    Noir crime fiction – Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett anyone? – is an American invention...
  • Book Jacket: The Mothers
    The Mothers
    by Brit Bennett
    Every now and then the publishing industry gushes about a young author destined to become the next ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    News of the World
    by Paulette Jiles

    Exquisitely rendered and morally complex--a brilliant work of historical fiction.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Cruel Beautiful World
    by Caroline Leavitt

    A fast moving page-turner about the naiveté of youth and the malignity of power.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Comet Seekers
    by Helen Sedgwick

    A magical, intoxicating debut novel, both intimate and epic.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.