The universally 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 character-a 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.
Young women served as snipers for both Bosnian and Serbian forces during the siege of Sarajevo; Simon, a prize-winning correspondent and NPR Weekend Edition host, interviewed one of them and has masterfully imagined her life. The book begins with half-Muslim Irena, 17, perched on a rooftop, wearing a black ski mask, sighting down a rifle and listening to a sneering Serbian propagandist on the radio ("The Yanks send you food Americans wouldn't give to their dogs") before she pulls the trigger. Simon then flashes back to the spring of 1992, when Irena, her parents and her parrot, Pretty Bird, must flee their home on the mostly Serb side of the city. When they make it (barely) to her grandmother's apartment, they find her slain on the staircase. Simon's account of the family's refugee life-sans water, electricity and supplies, they eat snail-and-grass soup-is full of brilliant details ranging from the comic to the heartbreaking. When a former assistant principal spots Irena, once a high school basketball star, he offers her a job that quickly has her recruited, indoctrinated and trained in deception and weaponry. That's when the action really begins to move along. Pretty Bird is released for mercy's sake, flies to his old home and is caught by Amela-a Christian and Irena's former classmate and teammate-who concocts a devious and difficult plan to return him to her friend. A deeply felt, boldly told story and clean, forceful prose distinguish this striking first novel. Agent, Jonathan Lazear. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
May 08, 2006
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Pretty Birds by Scott J. Simon
1. November 1992
Irena Zaric put her last stick of gum in her mouth, winked at a bird, and wondered where to put her last bullet before going home. Sometimes she conferred with the pigeons that flocked along her arms. What have you seen, boy What's going on over there The birds were cohorts; they roosted together.
The grim sky was beginning to open into a briny blue. The first winds of the day from the hills blew in with a bite of sun and a smell of snow. It was the time of day when sharp sounds the scorch of a shot, a scream, a humdrum thud could be heard best in the hollow streets. After a long night alone in the city s rafters, Irena was consoled by the swish of the pigeons. They reassured her: she wasn t the only one left in town.
The birds were tired and, she imagined, cranky from hunting for tree limbs to settle on. Their feathers clapped in the stillness. People with hatchets and kitchen knives had hacked down most of the city s trees to burn them for heat and cooking fuel. The park across from the old Olympic Stadium, where Irena used to go with boys, now sprouted only grave markers scored with sharp, blunt letters: slavica jankovic 1956 1992. or blond girl on karlovacka andproletariat brigade boulevard 27-5 (those who had slashed the graves into the ground last spring never imagined they would have to specify the year, but already a new one was approaching).
The planks offered no leaves or bugs to the birds; no shade or shelter to people. At dawn, the pigeons became like any other hungry citizen of Sarajevo. They settled in the exposed bones of bombed-out buildings, perching on bent and blackened iron rails. ...
While Irena crouched soundlessly on a scarred concrete landing behind a smashed wall, she could hear the tinny blast of a loudspeaker begin to blare the Knight from just across the line. He was the morning voice the Bosnian Serbs broadcast from Pale, the old mountain resort a dozen miles away, where they had wheeled artillery pieces in among the ski jumps and hot tubs, and declared a capital. Irena heard the first chords of the Clash song the Knight often used to begin his show after a night of pouring mortar fire. London s burning, she could make out as the words battered her ears, all across the town, all across the night. The Knight s voice crept in over the last lines as the band sang about wind howling through empty blocks and stone.