Swanee Hunt, former U.S. Ambassador to Austria, was a participant in the international effort to assist in the resolution of the Bosnian Conflict. She gives sketches of the war and discusses what lessons can be learned from this and other conflicts.
Author Swanee Hunt takes an interesting approach in this look at the war in Bosnia. Rather than writing a straight narrative account of its history from start to finish, she has chosen to present a series of vignettes, alternating between “Insider” and “Outsider” perspectives. Initially, I found the book’s structure a bit unsettling, especially since the first events do not seem to move in chronological order. Let me point out, however, that my copy is a galley, and therefore might be rearranged in the editing process prior to final publication. After the first few stories, this problem resolved itself and many pieces actually seemed to set up the next. I loved the formatting once I had settled in to the flow of the book. No, this book is not an exhaustive recitation of the conflict from start to finish, but Ms. Hunt offers so much more.
While she does not attempt to write the whole history of the war, she does begin the book with an excellent section entitled “Context”, in which she gives a brief glimpse of enough history of the area to help her reader understand the causes of the conflict and then a very brief outline of the war itself. This section is also used to lay the groundwork for a major premise of the book-that the conflict in Bosnia was not a religious war.
In employing her alternating sections format, Ms. Hunt is able to bring in a large number of voices. The “Outsider” sections feature diplomats and state department personnel from a number of countries outside of Bosnia. Conversely, the “Insider” accounts are those of people living through the conflict inside the country. Had she used a straight narration I would likely have said that the cast of players was too large, but within this structure it absolutely works. It also enables her to portray in very stark fashion the dichotomy between events such as an embassy dinner and a meeting with a group of women in Bosnia.
During the conflict Swanee Hunt was the U.S. Ambassador to Austria, the closest diplomatic mission to Bosnia geographically. In addition to taking a very active part in the U.S. Department of State’s role in attempting to broker peace, the author spent a good deal of time trying to understand the conflict from the viewpoint of everyday Bosnians. She is a strong believer in the role that women can and should fill in unsettled areas of the world, and she invested much of her time providing support for the women of Bosnia as they gathered after the conflict to work together, across ethnic lines, for stability and unity within their country. As Ambassador Hunt points out, women make up more than half of a given country’s post-war citizens and can and should be part of the peace process. Bosnia also had the interesting extra benefit of having, at that time, more female PhDs per capita than any other European country. Since Bosnia, Swanee Hunt has gone on to found an organization dedicated to empowering women around the world in the political process and in business.
To wrap up her book, the author closes with six lessons, well supported with examples from not only Bosnia but countries from virtually every continent, which can be learned from past wars and applied to how the international community addresses unrest in the future.
Star Rating: Four stars
Target Audience: Bosnia is not an area I knew a whole lot about, but I had no trouble following the book. I think most readers will find Ambassador Hunt’s newest offering to be a very engrossing experience. It would be an excellent book to use with students, although I would suggest those not younger than sixteen, as war atrocities and genocide are discussed in some detail.
(Expected date of release: 6 September 2011)