by Carolyn Martinez
Between Before and After by Edita Mujkić is a manuscript that affected me.
Sarajevo and Bosnia seemed so far removed from my life in Australia that I wasn’t expecting to personally connect with the material in an intimate way. But then I read about a mother of two living a life very like mine, doing things I do—habits, routines, work, environment, social life, family responsibilities.
It all resonated with my life in Stafford Heights in sunny Queensland, Australia.
I read of a wife and mother of two children who felt like I do about my husband, and kids, and extended family. She could have been me.
A normal life reversed
And then overnight, without warning, snipers—made up of former acquaintances, maybe even friends—were in the hills surrounding their home, killing them as they walked in the streets. Killing them!
People they used to smile hello to at the corner store and post office – neighbours – were hiding in the hills, looking through viewfinders, pulling triggers.
It was unthinkable.
And just as I would have, Edita knew that other democratic countries just like them wouldn’t let it happen. Help would arrive soon.
But it didn’t…
‘Your heart will inhale every sentence…’
Through her book, Between Before and After, Mujkić is a compelling voice in important historical literature.
Debut memoir authors often make the mistake of thinking that readers need to know where they were born, how old they were when they toilet trained, where every scar is on their body and how it got there, what they wear to bed on Sunday nights.
Mujkić makes no such mistake, she takes you straight to the crux of the story and your heart will inhale every sentence as your eyes process the words on the page.
Despite her experiences, maybe even because of, Mujkić embraces living and the over-arching message in her book—“love will conquer everything”.
Refugee stories seem similar but deep down they are all very different. “Each story brings a slightly individual message,” says Mujkić.
Love persists even in war
“My story provides a first-hand account by a Bosnian woman of her escape with two small children from Sarajevo during the Bosnian war and her subsequent attempt to extricate her husband from the besieged city. It focuses on the personal and private tragedy of a single family caught up in the horror and unpredictability of war.
Despite all of this sadness, in the end this story is a happy one. If it wasn’t for mine and my husband’s love for our children and for each other, the story would be different.
Without the love of people who have helped us along the way, our story would be different too. The power of love when everything else fails is what makes our story unique and worth sharing.
It is a universal story of hope for everyone in a difficult situation, to love and persist with the fight for better times.”
It has been 28 years since Mujkić and her husband were reunited after 600 days of involuntary separation.
Those 600 days are a read I recommend you take.
Lived experience through the eyes of this extraordinary woman who had the tenacity to master the art of storytelling in her second language—I am grateful for the change that Between Before and After wrought in me.
I invite you to enjoy and support this important book. I suspect you weren’t expecting the word “enjoy” but you’ll know what I mean when you turn the final pages and the experience settles over you.
Despite war, natural beauty remains
Mujkić says that Bosnia and Herzegovina is still as naturally beautiful a country as it was before the war. “Sarajevo is a charming city where East meets West, both in the architecture and in the cuisine. The foreigners who were lucky to be placed in Sarajevo with their jobs love the atmosphere and the food. A huge amount of effort and money has been invested in repairing the war damage and reconstructing buildings that were almost completely ruined. Unfortunately, the economy has never recovered and while many families have restored their pre-war living standard, many have not.’
Maybe one day I’ll get to see Bosnia and Herzegovina in person to retrace some of the steps in this book that changed me.