Book review: Country of Red Azaleas tells the story of a bond made stronger by war
Domnica Radulescu, who came to the United States from Romania in 1983 as a political refugee, has crafted a compelling tale of two friends – a Serbian and Bosnian – who grew up together in the former Yugoslavia.
Lara and Marija became friends in Belgrade. Throughout their childhood, neither gave much thought to their ethnicities, but in 1992, when they were in college and war broke out, they were forced to pick sides.
Lara ran away to Washington with a handsome American. Marija went home to Sarajevo and dedicated herself to journalism.
From there, their paths could not be more different. As Lara makes a comfortable, middle-class life for herself as an academic, wife and mother, Marija disappears into the confusing and frightening grip of war. It will be decades before the friends meet again.
Radulescu’s prose is fluid and languid – even when she’s describing the madness of war. Her pacing is perfect, as Lara watches her marriage fall apart and starts searching for her missing friend.
Describing seeing Marija again, Lara says: “I felt shreds and shreds of my heart and memory become loose and fall off me like I was an animal shedding its skin.”
The book’s only flaw is the ending, which feels entirely too neat for such a big, messy story.