Winner of the Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers 2011
Finalist for the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award 2013
Braco, which means “little brother” in Bosnian, takes place during the five days following the fall of Srebrenica, Bosnia in which thousands of men and boys were murdered by the Bosnian Serb army. The novel is told from the point of view of six people including a Bosnian boy and his mother, a Bosnian soldier, a Serb soldier, a Dutch peacekeeper and a Canadian photojournalist. Through these multiple points of view, Braco shows us what can happen when collective responsibility breaks down in the chaos of war resulting in individual struggles to retain our humanity. Some succeed. Some fail. Some don’t even try.
When the war began in 1992, the town of Srebrenica was primarily Muslim but most of the territory around it was quickly occupied by the Bosnian Serb army. Refugees swelled the population of the town to 50,000 and with little food and other necessities, a humanitarian crisis was soon catching the world’s attention.
In April, 1993, French general Philippe Morillon visited the town to assess the situation and was prevented from leaving by crowds of women who didn’t want him to go without doing something. Without authority, Morillon declared Srebrenica under the protection of the United Nations.
No one was more surprised by this than the UN but they approved this and sent out a call for troops to protect the town. Estimates said they needed 10,000 soldiers to properly secure the area. Canada was the only nation to reply and could only spare 150 peacekeepers from the unit stationed in Visoko, near Sarajevo.
When my unit was posted there in October, 1993, we provided the 150 peacekeepers needed to protect Srebrenica. We also had to supply them and one of the drivers who went back and forth to Srebrenica delivering supplies came to me one day and told me he had met a boy in Srebrenica, and that despite UN aid shipments, he said they still didn’t have a lot of food. He asked me to help him find some food that he could take to the boy and for the next few months I gave him whatever I could find – like cans of ravioli or bags of jelly bears.
In March 1994, the Dutch replaced our peacekeepers in Srebrenica with 800 of their own. When the driver returned from his last trip into the town, he said the boy had said thank you and had given us each a gift – a green Srebrenica license plate.
We lost contact with the boy and sixteen months later, the Bosnian Serb army invaded the town. The women and children were transported to safety in Tuzla but the men fled into the woods and had to walk fifty kilometres through territory occupied by the Serb army.
Fifteen thousand men and boys took to the woods. Less than half of them would make it to Tuzla.
I’m still unsure of what became of the boy, and after learning the full story of the massacre, I decided to write this book to answer the question of what may have happened to him.
But it’s also a story that gives a human meaning to some of the crimes Ratovan Karadic and Ratko Mladic are currently on trial for in The Hague.