Charmer Boy Gypsy Girl
I think it’s possible the most universal story is that of star-crossed lovers. Even one variation on it, Romeo and Juliet, has been retold in dozens of ways, from simple adaptations of the source to other time periods to making the story into a musical. Why, then, should we need another? Is there any point in telling the same story again and again? I would insist that there is, for the power of the stories lies not just in the plot. It lies in the backdrop, in whatever setting the author chooses to place the lovers in. In this case, the story is in Sarajevo of the 1980s and 1990s, turning Charmer Boy, Gypsy Girl into a very different form of this tale from Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story.
Like both of those, the tale starts out with love at first sight. Bosko, a Serb, goes out with his friends to a New Year’s Eve party. There, to his surprise (though not to ours), he meets a beautiful Bosnian Muslim girl, Admira. She is as smitten by him as he is by her, and they slip off together to find a room of their own. Though the chemistry between them made my heart race, they do no more than talk. That talking feels more intimate than any physical connection might have been, and by the time they part, it isn’t a secret that they will meet again and again. When the book skips ahead months, then years, it is no surprise that they have continued to meet.
For those who know the history of the Balkans, it is also no surprise that life in Sarajevo at the time was growing more difficult. Tensions were rising between every ethnicity, and it wasn’t long before those tensions reached a breaking point. Sarajevo is no longer a safe place for young lovers. It is no longer a safe place for anyone.
Victor Harrington draws the reader into Bosko and Admira’s love beautifully, but I was even more amazed by how he brings us into the conflict. I knew something of what would come, having read a bit about it, but I was still blindsided by the suddenness and the violence. I was drawn into the war zone with them, and Harrington does an excellent job at portraying all the complexities of a land at war with itself. Hope and despair, love and hate, ideals and pragmatism…all tie themselves together, showing the difficulty of being human in the midst of inhumanity. I fell in love with the book, and I’m certain any other readers will, too.