Zlata Filipovic, now a woman in her mid-twenties with a graduate degree living in Dublin, Ireland, was just eleven years old when war came to Sarajevo in the spring of 1992. Zlata's diary, which she nicknamed, Mimmy, evolvedfrom a fun and frivolous slice of pre-teen life complete with references to skiing trips, birthday parties, secret talks at sleepovers, pop music and fashion to a living testimony to some of the darkest times in recent history, the Bosnian War.
Zlata, the only child of Malik, a lawyer, and Alica, a chemist, earned near-perfect grades in school, had loads of friends, and played piano beautifully. She lived close to her grandparents. She wanted to join Madonna's fan club. Zlata and her family were educated, cultured Bosnians who intermingled with Serbs, Croats and Muslims. Zlata never says which she is in her story (FYI - Her family is of mixed origins). She only says that "No matter how stupid, ugly and unreasonable I think this division of people into Serbs, Croats and Muslims is, these stupid politics are making it happen...Ordinary people don't want this division, because it won't make anybody happy - not the Serbs, not the Croats, not the Muslims. But who asks ordinary people?" (May 4, 1993).
During the war, Zlata and her family lose everything. Zlata's mother's place of work is destroyed. Zlata can't go to school with any regularity. The Pibi orangeade and sweet treats that Zlata so adores are near impossible to get. Instead, she almost forgets what fruit and vegetables taste like. Gas, electricity and safety are also sacrificed. Friends leave Sarajevo in exodus and move all over Europe. Some of Zlata's acquaintances are murdered horribly, innocent children caught in the crossfire of someone else's war.
Sarajevo itself transforms from an educated center of culture to a medieval backwater in which survival becomes very difficult. Even the Olympic Stadium lies in ruins. Zlata contemplates suicide but tries to be strong - especially for her mother, who seems to be coming apart at the seams. She admits she is a child "without a childhood" who only wants peace for Christmas in 1993.
Despite the cycle of devastation and death, the neighborhood becomes a bit of a family. There are good people who look out for the children and make sure that Zlata has an occasional chocolate bar, some clothes to fit her growing frame and birthday presents. The new "family" celebrates the holidays and birthdays and marriages that still occur. They "imitate life," as Zlata notes, but why? "People in Sarajevo do it all the time. We imitate life to make things easier." (August 26, 1993).
Zlata's Diary has often been compared to The Diary of Anne Frank. Zlata herself is aware of those comparisons and is both honored and afraid of them at the same time. She is honored to be thought of in the same vein as Miss Frank, a courageous young woman who gave voice to the voiceless and a face to the faceless during the horrors of Nazi Germany. However, Frank also died at the age of 15 at Bergen-Belsen of typhoid. Zlata does not desire to be a martyr to the war.
Luckily, her diary is published during her lifetime. In fact, it is published during the war and becomes her family's ticket out of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Zlata has a happy ending, happier than some of her friends and relations. Of course, Zlata has never forgotten the war. She has continued to speak about the war. Yes, the peace treaties may have been signed in Bosnia. Some of the criminals of the conflict have even been brought to trial, but the scars and devastation that have occurred live on. This book deals with these in an intelligent, often poetic, manner. Zlata's Diary brings the war home and reminds us that we should never let anything like this happen ever again while realizing that we probably will.
Zlata's Diary is a poignant record of a childhood lost to war, a truly inspirational yet profoundly sad work that, much like the author, has a wisdom well beyond its years.