BookBrowse Reviews Pretty Birds by Scott Simon

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

Pretty Birds

by Scott Simon

Pretty Birds by Scott Simon
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


An intense, startling, and tragicomic portrait of a classic character–a young woman in the besieged city of Sarajevo in the early 1990s. 1st Novel

From the book jacket: 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 mortar fire.

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 she loves.

Comment: Before the impact of what I was seeing started to diminish with repetition, I recollect being struck quite strongly by the news footage coming out of the "Former Yugoslavia" in 1992 - by the realization that merely by the extreme good fortune of birth, I was living a comfortable life in England (at the time) while our European neighbors were hacking each other to death.  (Europe is a small place relative to the USA, and although there are a number of countries between England and Yugoslavia, the distance between London and Sarajevo, as the crow flies, is about the same as between New York and Chicago.) Obviously I'd seen wars on the TV before, but somehow they'd always seemed farther away - either historically or geographically - but here was a war on my doorstep being fought between people who looked pretty much like me, which brought home the realization of how extremely fortunate I was (and still am) to have lived all my life in stable democracies - and how that it is something never, ever, to take for granted. 

Reading Pretty Birds brought these thoughts home once more.  Irena is interested in the minutiae of her life - her place on the basketball team, international pop stars and boyfriends - a typical teenager; but then her life is turned on its head by political events that she's barely been aware of. Scott Simon, through his first hand experience of the siege, 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.

This review was originally published in July 2005, and has been updated for the May 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
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 books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Golden Hill
    Golden Hill
    by Francis Spufford
    Spufford brings American history to raucous life through the story of Mr. Richard Smith, a ...
  • Book Jacket: Midnight at the Electric
    Midnight at the Electric
    by Jodi Lynn Anderson
    The world changes, but humanity stays the same. Whether a book takes place in the year 1510 or 2010,...
  • Book Jacket
    News of the World
    by Paulette Jiles
    Paulette Jiles brings the landscape of late 19th century Texas to life in this novel long-listed for...

Win this book!
Win The Library of Light and Shadow

The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose

"Possibly her best yet. A sensuous, sumptuous, and spellbinding novel." - Kirkus Reviews

Enter

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Necklace
    by Claire McMillan

    For readers of The Nest, the intelligent, intoxicating story of long-simmering family secrets.
    Reader Reviews

Word Play

Solve this clue:

T H Are B T O

and be entered to win..

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

A richly layered novel of hearts broken seemingly beyond repair and then bound by a stunning act of human devotion.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & 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.