Wednesday 6 July 2022

'Black Butterflies' by Priscilla Morris - A Tale of Survival and Loss During the Siege of Sarajevo ★★★★★

I've finished Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris. I wanted to say 'finally finished' but I realise that it only took me two weeks to read. I have a bad habit of not finishing books on Bosnia. After studying both the war and genocide, and visiting Mostar and Sarajevo, I find the topic quite harrowing and exhausting because I know what's coming. Somehow I managed to push through with this novel but I'm quite depleted.

Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris | Book Review

This is going to be a case of the book being far, far better than my review because I'm battling to separate this excellent book from all the emotions it's provoked in me.

Black Butterflies is superb. It is a fictional account by Priscilla Morris but she explains in the afterword that the characters are based on members of her own family, specifically her great-uncle and her maternal grandparents. The book is exceptionally well-researched and transports the reader to the siege of Sarajevo amid the Bosnian War.

Zora Kočović is an artist living in the cosmopolitan, multi-cultural city of Sarajevo when war breaks out and the city is placed under siege on 5 April 1992. Her husband Franjo is able to escape with Zora's mother to live with their daughter in England but Zora decides to stay behind, to continue her work as an artist and teacher and to look after both their home and her mother's apartment.

It is a decision with dire consequences.

Black Butterflies takes place in the first year of the Siege of Sarajevo and delves into the hunger, cold and desperation of Sarajevans as both water and electricity supplies are cut off, food and water become scarce, and Serbs relentlessly shell the city. We spend endless days with Zora and her neighbours as the seasons bleed into one another and the friends encounter unfathomable losses.

Morris does such a good job of fleshing out the characters of the book, weaving their various nationalities into their stories as we meet the Serbs, Croats and Muslims that lived in Sarajevo before the war (Morris explains that she does not use the term 'Bosniak' in the book as she does not believe that it would have been used by Zora in Sarajevo in 1992. This corresponds with reports that the term emerged in the mid-1990s).

Zora makes daily visits to the Vijećnica (City Hall) and Baščaršija (the old bazaar), she muses about bridges and the connections between people, and she works to resolve the often painful memories from her childhood.

Black Butterflies is a rare gem that combines historical events with deep character study. I loved, and lived, every minute of this book.

Lasting 1425 days (over 3 years and 10 months), the siege of Sarajevo remains the longest siege of a major city in modern history. The scale of deprivation and loss endured by Sarajevans during that time is unfathomable but their determination and resourcefulness equally admirable . I love that Morris chose to write about these events and look forward to more of her work.

I give Black Butterflies a superb five out of five stars and recommend to fans of historic fiction.


I received an electronic copy of this graphic novel from Book Sirens. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me


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