Friday, July 22, 2011

book review: King of Tuzla by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

"For two days his company had been under the command of Nordbat, the Norwegian-Danish-Swedish battalion that had been billeted around Tuzla, initially for a period of two weeks. Who could say whether it would stop at that? Links with the battalion in Srebrenica had been temporarily severed. Just as well: from now on he was more or less his own boss. He was king, King of Tuzla."

Reading this story of life on the inside of a UN mission to Bosnia reminded you of that news footage where the blue helmeted troops looked so helpless in the face of a conflict that tore the former Yugoslavia apart.

That sense of frustration is evident in this account of life on the sinde of a Dutch unit sent to police an airport in an area disputed by rebels fighting out differences which went back generations and were bogged down in the complex differences of race and religion.

At the heart of the story is a solider, Tijmen Kleide Gildekamp, who through his experiences serving under the UN banner becomes disillusioned with the army life and in the hours of boredom punctuated with brief hair raising moments of fear he gets the chance to reevaluate his life.

It is a life of service and duty but one that is pretty empty of friends and real satisfaction and even as he sits wearing his King of Tuzla t-shirt looking out across the pock marked shelled runways he struggles to find sense in the military manoeuvres although he does start to get a sense of what he needs to do with his life.

The book benefits from the autobiographical knowledge of the author and the confidence he has describing not just the experience of serving in Bosnia but the background to how you get from a student at military school into the position of leadership. The close knit world of the army is clearly one that people struggle to leave and as Tijmen walks past the barracks and recalls his past there is that sense of regretting lost time not just spent in the army but spent making the decision to leave.

The description of the tension and almost anarchy of the front lines and the tightrope that the UN soilders were treading is brilliantly done and even those with no sense of history of the recent conflict will understand the difficulty for troops that were seen as an irritant and unwanted by both sides.

It's such a well worn phrase but in many respects this is a coming of age story that charts the journey of a man who discovers himself as an individual rather than just a cog in a machine and discovers that real bravery isn't just facing up to mortar shells and bullets but making a break with a life and a past to go off and do something different.

If you want proof that literature has the power to change lives then this illustrates it on every level.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks simon ,I glad some one else got something from this book other reviews I ve read all mention a couple of translation error ,the story is very touching and shows the horror of war ,all the best stu