This book is a true story about what it is like to be married to a war reporter and what it is like to have one for a dad. It s about being five-years old and wondering why Daddy s boots are covered in mud from a mass grave and who was in it. It's about sitting on the sofa at home and watching cruise missiles rain down on your father's head - then eating your baked beans and doing your homework.
It's the story of five kids growing up in the New Europe and trying to work out why some countries supermarket shelves are empty and others groan with hundreds of different loo cleaners.
How do they come to terms with the past, the present and the future, especially when the ghosts of Auschwitz come close to home and the scars of war are not easy to heal?
And how do they work out who they are when their roots are scattered across the continent. What shall I be today: British, French, Jewish, Irish Catholic, English Protestant or how about Serbian or even Romanian?
READ AN EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK
“Where’s Mr Parking? Why doesn’t he find us a space?” asks Ben as we drive up and down the street outside our flat. Ben loves Mr Parking. I can’t see him anywhere.
Mr Parking is the man who organises the parking lots outside Belgrade town hall. It’s an elegant 1880s building that was once the royal palace and is right next to our block of flats. For a tip, he lets us park in the lots reserved for local officials. I haven’t seen him for weeks and have to be careful where I put the car, or we’ll be towed.
“I think he has gone back to Bosnia to fight, Ben.”
“What!” Ben is horrified.
“Why? I want to park the car. Doesn’t he want to stay here?”
“No, I expect he wanted to go home and defend his village.”
“Where is his village?”
“He’s from eastern Bosnia, the bit between here and Sarajevo. He told Dads he comes from Kamenica. It’s in one of the last bits there that’s still under Muslim control.” It’s a village close to the town of Srebrenica.
“What! He’s a Muslim?” Ben is amazed: “But he looks like everyone else!”
“Of course, he does! You don’t look different if you’re Muslim. Bosnians look the same whether they are Muslims or not.” My mother has just sent him a book about the crusades.
“I thought Muslims looked like Arabs.”
Ben never stops asking after Mr Parking as the months roll on:
“What’s happened to him?”
“Maybe, he is besieged in his village. It’s a Muslim stronghold. He’s fighting, I expect.”
He always asks: “Poor Mr Parking. Is he dead?” and I answer: “Maybe.”
I can tell he thinks I’m hiding something but I really have no idea what has become of Mr Parking. The scenarios aren’t good though. The fighting in eastern Bosnia is vicious. After a ten-month siege Kamenica eventually falls to the Serbs.
Not long after it has been overrun, Tim goes to watch the exhumation of a mass grave on a hill above the village. It’s a sunny winter’s day and the corpses steam, as they are lifted out of the frozen ground. The Serbs are looking for their dead. In this part of Bosnia, there are tales of captured Serbian prisoners being roasted on stakes and impaled. Some of the bodies in the grave have had their arms and legs tied up with wire. One has no head. Tim gets back very late at night. His boots are covered in mud from the grave. He leaves them in the bathroom. He’s exhausted and falls asleep immediately. I lie next to him in the dark. When I glance across the hallway to the bathroom, I can see his boots. I get up and shut the door. I think about all the things he has seen. I can’t take my eyes off him. How can he remain so calm and composed? I would be a nervous wreck. I realize that his kind of journalism is not for me.
When Ben gets up the following morning, he wants to know why the bathroom door is shut. When he opens it he sees the boots. It’s inevitable he’ll ask about where the mud has come from:
“Why are Dad’s boots so dirty? Where’s he been?”
“Nowhere special,” I say trying to shrug the question off and concentrate on loading the washing machine. I think I should start to be a bit more reticent about things. It’s too terrible to contemplate. Tim is still asleep. I look at Ben.
“I wanna know. Tell me!”
He looks determined. He’s right. There’s no point in lying. It’s interesting and worth talking about after all. I close the door. I don’t want to wake Tim.
“Daddy’s been to see a mass grave in Mr Parking’s village. The mud is from the grave. It was being dug up.
“Was Mr Parking in it?”
“No. They were Serbs killed by Muslims.”
“By Mr Parking?”
“Oh Ben! How do I know?”
“Where has Mr Parking gone now?”
“The Muslims who escaped have gone to Srebrenica. Dads saw their footprints in the snow. They had run away across the fields. I expect he ran off too.”
I open the bathroom door and go into the kitchen to make breakfast. He runs off to play Lego. Life goes on