cover image Black Butterflies

Black Butterflies

Priscilla Morris. Knopf, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-80185-7

Bosnian British author Morris debuts with the stirring story of a community’s heroic efforts to maintain its humanity during the siege of Sarajevo. In spring 1992, as sectarian tensions boil over, Zora, a 55-year-old artist of Serbian descent, chooses to stay behind while her husband and mother flee to London. Zora and her Catholic and Muslim neighbors underestimate the risk they face, downplaying the barricades set up by militiamen intent on carving the city into nationalist enclaves, until one night a Serbian shell slams into their building. Life in the city descends into previously unimaginable depths of horror as snipers take aim at civilians, sever power and telephone lines, and choke off exit points, stranding a defenseless population as winter looms. The embattled residents of Zora’s building band together, resisting degradation through their commitment to art and friendship. For her part, Zora opens her doors to neighbors, converts her apartment into a studio, and gives painting lessons. Morris’s prose vibrates with love for the singular city, dotted with Hapsburg spires, Islamic arches, and the onion domes of Serbian Orthodox churches; and for its residents, who, withered and starved, cling tenaciously to the ideal of a multiethnic metropolis. The world she crafts is perfectly rendered, and it amounts to a poignant love letter to Sarajevo and to the human spirit. This one is tough to shake. (Aug.)