This is the story of a father, as seen through the prism of a daughter’s memories of him. The personal story is offset against a greater political context and the destructive impact of nationalism on individuals and their families. It is a tale of survival, resilience and humanity.
The book covers the time that the father, Dragan, spent in a World War II concentration camp set up by the separatist Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi-supported puppet state run by Croatian ultra-nationalists. The camp and the atrocities perpetrated there are still highly contentious issues in contemporary Croatia, Serbia and especially in Bosnia and Hercegovina. The absence of reconciliation over the events in the camp was one of the contributing factors in the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the subsequent Balkan wars and the continued instability of the region today.
The memoir contains the manuscript left by Dragan, in conversation with his daughter Sibel, the author. It is indeed, a deeply personal learning experience about a part of her father that she never knew.
Sibel Roller is a writer of twentieth century non-fiction and fiction, focused on hitherto unheard voices and unusual perspectives. She grew up in eight countries across four continents but now resides in London. Her early career was in science research and teaching. She is Professor Emerita at London South Bank University.
A wonderful book, albeit on a difficult subject, capturing the essence of wartime revolutionary life while telling the heartbreaking story of life as a political prisoner. This book provides a different perspective on the better known history of the Nazi death camps and is equal parts family story and historical account. Roller gives us a real sense of her father’s character, in his own words and through her memories - the book is beautifully narrated in these two voices, combining the author’s journey with her translation of her father’s autobiography. Wonderfully told, a beautiful and sad story.
This is an important addition to the literature of the Second World War and the concentration camp system, shining a light on a crucible of conflict and oppression often denied the coverage it deserves. The author deftly and movingly weaves a narrative that tells not only of her father Dragan’s wartime experiences but of his long and extraordinary life, much of it spent working abroad for the UN. It is a tale of discovery and self-discovery. First, as Dragan strives to live a meaningful life at once informed by but never defined by his experiences in the Jasenovac concentration camp. And then as his daughter comes to a new understanding of her father when she discovers a stash of his writings and other documents after his death. A book that has much to teach us but that wears its wisdom lightly, it deserves to be widely read.
As the first generation gives way to the second, Sibel Roller's timely, moving and important book is a powerful reminder of one of Europe's worst, and all but forgotten, concentration camps. Combining memoir, testimony and history, she provides a rare insight into the camp, as well as a fitting tribute to those who died and those who survived.