About the Book:
Evelyn is teaching English in Sarajevo, a beautiful city still recovering almost two decades after the long and brutal siege in the 1990s.
Life in the city is tenuous yet welcoming. Dedicated to her work preparing high-schoolers for a scholarship that could change the course of their lives, Evelyn feels more herself here than at home in Australia. But when the teenage son of a local hero is stabbed and it seems like a cover-up will let the killer go free, Sarajevans take to the streets in protest.
When Evelyn discovers evidence that could ignite the volatile situation, putting both her students’ ambitions and her friendships at risk, she faces an impossible decision.
Gripping and heartfelt, Time and Tide in Sarajevo asks: how do we find hope in a world that feels beyond repair?
Published by Affirm Press
Released July 2022
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book from start to finish in a day. Time and Tide in Sarajevo unfolds over the course of just a few days and is atmospheric in the way that a story can only become when its author is intimately familiar with the time and place, as Bronwyn Birdsall is with Sarajevo. The Bosnian War is one that exists within living memory for me, and this is the first novel I have read about it, albeit, it is a post-war novel, set almost twenty years after the end of the war, but as we see within this story, twenty years is not a very long time ago, not at all for those who stayed.
‘The sound grew louder, reverberating again through Evelyn’s body, but causing none of the agony from the day before. She reached out to touch Aida’s arm, but Aida had squatted on the ground, her fingers in her ears.
Evelyn crouched down next to her, trying to tell her that it would be over soon, but Aida clearly couldn’t hear her, and her eyes were closed.’
Without being a novel about the trauma of war, Time and Tide in Sarajevo deftly unpicks post-war inter-generational trauma, weaving it into the narrative and the daily lives of the characters in a way that is startling for its normality. There were quite a few passages that had me pausing to reflect.
‘No one ever talks about the silence,’ Vesna continued. ‘It would be silent, and then gunshots, screams, footsteps. Imagine complete silence, but knowing at any moment a shell would hit, that someone you love…’
The main character is an Australian woman teaching English as part of an American scholarship program aimed at giving bright students the opportunity to study in the United States. She also teaches others for cash, including a prominent politician, and it is here where the plot points merged.
‘Evelyn could see them as those children in the photo Vesna had showed her, transfixed by a candle as relentless shelling would have been going on in the background. A targeted, huge mortar shell had just caused a massacre some five hundred metres from where they sang for Aida’s birthday, at the same market where they now bought their vegetables.’
I liked the political and sociological focus of this novel very much. As it moved towards its conclusion, it got a little bit too ‘genre’ fiction for my tastes, deviating sharply from my expectations. I still enjoyed it, but I wasn’t entirely convinced on the plausibility of how it all wrapped up. All in all though, Time and Tide in Sarajevo is a compelling debut from an author with real talent. I look forward to reading more by Bronwyn Birdsall.
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.