LESSONS FROM SARAJEVO:
A WAR STORIES PRIMER
By Jim Hicks
University of Massachusetts Press
Jim Hicks, who directs the graduate program in comparative literature at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has built a strong connection over the years to Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina and a flashpoint in the Bosnia War of Independence in the 1990s. He’s taught in Sarajevo and headed a program there for international students, and now he’s used the city as a starting point for examining how war is portrayed in different media.
Hicks, who’s also the editor of The Massachusetts Review, writes that he’s most interested in looking at “what we can learn by thinking about war stories ... if we ourselves are not in a position to alleviate suffering [of war’s victims], then what’s the use? And why, really, are we interested?”
Beginning with poetry and other works by Walt Whitman, who wrote about visiting wounded Union soldiers during the Civil War, Hicks looks at how a slew of modern conflicts — World War I, Vietnam, the Bosnian War, Iraq and Afghanistan — have been depicted in journalism, film, photography, literature and other art forms. It’s important, he notes, to move beyond what he calls the “sentimental tradition” of war stories — that of heroics and glorious death — to get a unvarnished picture of a conflict and its repercussions.
He notes that in a democracy, “we are each responsible for policy decisions taken on our behalf. So it is imperative that we gain fluency in the diverse forms of representation .... that bring war to us.”
“Lessons from Sarajevo” is illustrated with a wealth of images, from seminal photographs of corpses on Civil War battlefields to newsmagazine covers from the 1990s of emaciated prisoners in Bosnia.
ENGAGING LIFE: LIVING WELL
WITH CHRONIC ILLNESS
By Dorothy Firman
Amherst psychotherapist and writer Dorothy Firman has written widely on counseling issues, psychology and the bonds between parents and children. In “Engaging Life,” she takes a look at strategies for coping with chronic illness, from tackling the issue mentally and emotionally to learning how to find and receive the medical help.
Firman has dedicated the book to a former patient who came to her psychotherapy practice more than 25 years ago with a diagnosis of terminal cancer; given four months to live, she writes, the woman is alive today and has written a book herself. Since then, Firman notes, she’s counseled many patients with long-term illness and has come to know family and friends with similar problems: “I have been honored to travel side-by-side with ... [them] down a difficult road.”
Using case studies and a series of steps people can take to combat chronic illness, Firman lays out a path that asks readers to do a lot of self-examination and reflection. For instance, she suggests writing down basic facts about your past life and compare them to those of your current life (with illness), imagine desired outcomes in your life, and then write a fantasy story with these basic facts as the tale’s outline.
“How we tell that story, think it, write it in our minds is the difference between a great story of resilience and triumph and a sad, sad tale of woe,” she writes.
Firman also puts much stock in the issue of soul and spirit, saying that spirituality — in the most general sense, a way of coming to terms with the universe and one’s place in it — can play an important role in dealing with chronic illness.
Reaching out for help to friends and family, rather than suffering alone, is vital, she says: “Now is a good time to practice telling the people in your life what you do need, what you want, what helps, and what doesn’t.”