A young girl plays on the cover of Courtney Angela Brkicís literary debut, Stillness and Other Stories. She swings on a rope, a smile wrapped around her head like a scarf, ignorant to the crumbling community around her. This image, both surreal and poetic, describes Brkicís short-story collection better than any adjective ever could. The young girlís innocence is overshadowed by the darkness of her neighborhood, an inky faÁade that results from warís unnecessary effects. It is this civil innocence, however, that drives her poignant stories. By depicting an environment burdened by battle, her characters are searching for freedom, for the serenity of the normal lives they had led before the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina erupted. Their desperate attempts at normality and happiness in a community void of both help makes this anthology difficult to put down.
Of all the stories in her collection - a man stuck in a cellar, a college student seeking racial acceptance, a sonís attempts at understanding his father, etc. Ė there are two that stick out. The first is "The Angled City," the story of a sniper struggling to accept his role in life. As he perches above the city, staring down at the civilians through the lens on his rifle, he contemplates the fates of those he kills. It isnít until he wanders out into the community that he discovers the complexity - and beauty - of the community and its people. His whole agenda shifts after this experience, giving him an entirely different perspective on his mission and his countrymen. The other riveting story, though they are all touching, is titled "We Will Sleep In One Nest." This well-crafted prose highlights the nostalgic episodes of a grandfather who, along with his family, must flee the city before the shelling begins. By looking at portraits he painted years ago, he is reminded of his adolescence and his loving wife. The physical art itself reflects the beauty of the man and, in a sense, is metaphorical in that a quick stroke of a brush, or bomb, could change the way we see things. His struggle to leave the paintings behind, and the city he so adored, is both passionate and honest - a moving example of human suffering curing the extremities of war.
Brkicís stories are tight, controlled, and flow smoothly considering the macabre subject she embraces. It is difficult to use war as a motivation for writing; it is even more difficult to give it feelings and a mind of its own. But Brkic goes against the grain and describes the wars as if they were made of flesh and bone, haphazardly walking among the living. It is, in a sense, the bookís main character and the essential backbone of each story. Whether she is using war to detail the nakedness of society or to provoke the emotions of humanity, she succeeds. Brkic never forces the stories along; instead, she sets up her characters with ease and watches as they lead their complex lives in a time of war. All in all, beneath the dark and provocative themes, there is a steady elegance to her writing that cannot be ignored. Brkicís short stories are blemish-free reflections of how war affects not only our communities, but our own sanity and families. In picking up this enriching book, you will be amazed at how war could change the very way humanity exists.