BY PRISCILLA MORRIS
Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2023 ‘Black Butterflies’ tells the story of Zora - a mother, daughter, teacher and wife who finds herself trapped as well as ‘liberated’ by the war and siege of Sarajevo. A moving story of love and suffering in a war-torn city in which human tragedy co-exists with resilience and a fight for life.
‘Black Butterflies’ begins in the spring of 1992 and we the reader are quickly immersed into Zora’s world in which a war is creeping into her beloved city. Whilst Zora and her husband are feeling safe in their modern high rise, a reported burglary at her mother’s unoccupied family home triggers concern about who and what might be happening. Up until this point the residents, whether Bosniak, Croat or Serb have lived in relative harmony together. However nationalist gangs are closing into the city with religious and cultural divisions rising in a country heading towards a break-up.
The story follows Zora, who at 55 is struggling with middle age, but the unwelcome occupiers of her mother’s home spark a more spirited purpose in life. Sending her mother and husband to England for safety, Zora remains in her home town to continue her work as an art teacher as well as keeping watch of her home and her mother’s flat. As the seasons change it is not long before Zora see her city falls in the siege, forcing her to reinvent how she lives within her community, building new friendships and ‘family’ and learning a new way of living in a war-torn city.
Written by debut author Priscilla Morris, ‘Black Butterflies’ sets out to understand the ugly war that devastated her own mother’s hometown of Sarajevo and as a reader there is a depth of passion and richness to the narrative that provides a more intense and profound account of living in a city under siege. The novel which retells the story of a relatively recent war in Europe provided lots of talking points in the Den as well as an appreciation of our own family unit and community. A worthy shortlist for your book club this summer.