Zlata's Diary

A Review

as submitted to a DePaul education class, May, 1996
Book Review
Filipovic, Zlata, Zlata's Diary
Introduction by Janine Di Giovanni
Translated with notes by
Christine Pribichevich-Zoric'
Viking, 1994 $12.95

On September 2, 1991, the life of Zlata Filipovic changed forever. This was the date that she began keeping a diary. As a child in Sarajevo, which happened to be in the midst of a vicious war, her life was torn apart. She would share her thoughts, feelings, desires, and pain with herself, through the course of writing a diary for the next two years. But when she was offered the chance to have her diary published, she became famous the world over.

Zlata wrote this diary during her 11th, 12th, and part of her 13th years. The text is complemented by a sequence of a half-dozen photographic series, each depicting several aspects of Zlata's childhood. Most of her entries are very brief, encompassing no more than a few paragraphs. She seems quite articulate, especially for an adolescent, but that could also be the result of excellent translating.

The text is supplemented by periodic notes from Pribichevich-Zoric' to describe aspects of Zlata's life not explained fully enough in the actual journal. Examples include identification of names, locations, and war terms. A cast of characters preceding the main text is also helpful. Giovanni's introduction also serves as a useful summary of what was going on, both in the real world, and in Zlata's world.

There are many references, by both Giovanni and Zlata, to Anne Frank. Giovanni said that she was introduced to this piece of literature by a Bosnian who told her that this was written by "the Anne Frank of Sarajevo." Zlata's first textual mention of her is six months after the diary's creation.

"Since Anne Frank called her diary Kitty, maybe I could give you a name too." After listing six choices, she (thankfully) chose "Mimmy" (which was the easiest to pronounce). I suspect that Anne Frank must have been on her mind previously, as Zlata's mention of her was enacted so nonchalantly, Anne Frank is also a world-famous war-torn diary-keeper. She was apparently on her mind often, because her final mention of her is in September of 1993, hoping that she does not suffer the same fate.

It was inevitable that comparisons would be evoked between the two authors. They have many circumstances in common, but there are also many differences.

They are both teenaged girls in Europe discussing their feelings to a diary about being immersed in a war. However, Anne was a few years older, Anne was a literal prisoner in her annex, and she died before the war was over, never realizing her fame. Zlata was also somewhat of a prisoner, but to a lesser extent. Zlata's dilemma took place 50 years later. Zlata was also aware of Anne, and possibly was emulating her. Zlata also had the benefit of escaping to Paris to live in 1994, and realizing her fame, all the while the war still goes on.

There are certain questions raised that I wonder whether they are the doings of Zlata or Pribichevich-Zoric'. Firstly, certain passages are displayed in ALL CAPS. As is illustrated here, this gives the effect of shouting. I suspect that Zlata planned it this way. Secondly, as Zlata was leafing through a dictionary, she referred to a surplus of the letter 'h'. A translator footnote guessed as to what Zlata was referring (p. 145). The questions raised here are: Did the translator collaborate with Zlata on the book? Or didn't the translator have access to Zlata and just translated on her own? One would think that both parties would not want any questions left. Thirdly, Zlata writes, "I'm tired of all this Sssssss! I'm sorry I'm swearing, but..." (page 154). Questions raised here include: What did she really say? Can it be translated? Was it edited or censored? Why? Zlata also mentions that she was praised on her English ability. I would certainly enjoy discussing these and other subjects with her.

This book is, as is Anne Frank's diary, very appropriate for middle level students. There are many ways for students to relate. Firstly, Zlata is of middle school age throughout the book. Secondly, she is famous, having been featured in several articles, news shows, etc., which makes kids think it might be more relevant. Thirdly, the previous reason also lends itself to the fact that this book takes place in modern times, discussing events happening now, or at least which they have probably read about. This may be a disadvantage for Ms. Frank's diary. Fourthly, there are dozens of references to pop culture in which Zlata shows interest, as do most adolescents. These include: MTV, "Top Gun," Bazaar, and pizza.

Finally, this book depicts the horrors of war from an adolescent's point of view. There are dozens of descriptions of bloodshed, violence, shootings, and war. However, Zlata reacts to the insurrection around her with what seems to be wisdom, dozens of times decrying this war, calling it "stupid, political, full of despair," etc. She knows that she has lost her innocence, and she is quite upset that she is a "child without a childhood."