Courtney Angela Brkic


The First Rule of Swimming  |  Stillness: And Other Stories The Stone Fields


Stillness: And Other Stories
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (US) and Granta (UK), 2003

A 2003 Chicago Tribune Best Book, a 2003 New York Times Notable Book and a Barnes + Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick

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The war in the Balkans provides the striking backdrop for these emotionally resonant, morally challenging, and uplifting short stories. Brkic’s collection gives voice to people caught in situations beyond their control, as man, woman, and child struggle to survive and understand what it means to live beyond those you love. A man trapped in a cellar; a sniper overlooking a city street; a young woman whose father is convicted of war crimes. Each character challenges the reader’s notions of conflict by living lives of surprising self-awareness, deceit, and courage.



"[An] astonishing literary debut...Brkic's prose never wavers. It remains stalwart, exact, brutal, and grittily poetic." -- Newsday

"Spare and poignant . . . [Brkic has] produced a work so immeasurably distant from those all-to-common debut story collections…The impression we’re left with after reading Stillness is one of respect for Brkic's seriousness, her sympathy, and her spirit." -- Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

"An unflinching approach...She has a gift for shaping complicated, absorbing characters...A provocative and all-too-timely look at the ravages of war." -- The Washington Post Book World

"Haunting...They detonate in the mind." -- Los Angeles Times

"Harrowing...[Brkic] has effectively captured the horrors of fleeting moments in the lives of people trapped by aimless wars.... The power of these Balkan stories is undeniable." -- Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Brkic’s startling and essential debut collection…The fact-inspired fictions that fill Stillness are harrowingly spare and masterfully controlled.” -- The Observer

“This debut collection...offers the reader a multi-faceted portrait of the Bosnian war...This astonishing, vital book haunts and educates.” -- Uncut

"Like Ondaatje, Courtney Brkic exhales a redemptionary poetic quietude onto the page. The dead of Yugoslavia peer at us from behind her words." -- Tom Paine, author of Scar Vegas

"These marvelous stories full of sharp observations and touching moments show you more clearly and passionately what people go through in a war than most books of journalism do." -- Josip Novakovich, author of Salvation and Other Disasters

"Stillness manages the difficult fusion between a subject of substantive, brutal power and a literary style of unadorned grace. Given her work in Bosnia and Croatia, Courtney Angela Brkic is uniquely suited to serve as a witness to the genocidal war in Yugoslavia. But witness in and of itself cannot achieve the authentic leap of empathetic imagination that informs--that haunts--every sentence in this original and memorable debut collection." -- Stuart Dybek

In one of 16 sterling stories in Brkic's indelibly empathic debut collection, an artist takes his professor wife's face in his hands as they're about to be evacuated from besieged Sarajevo and thinks, "how ill-equipped we were for the grimness of war," a sentiment shared by most of Brkic's rapidly sketched yet fully realized characters. Of Croatian descent, Brkic worked as a forensic archaeologist in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the war, and she now imaginatively re-creates the last days of the dead and the sorrows of the displaced, writing with astonishing narrative grace, deep respect, and economy of both language and emotion. Brkic discerningly portrays a sniper and a peace broker, exiles stoic and hopeless, mothers longing for news of missing sons, and, in the exquisite title story, a man who, like thousands, has lived underground during months of shelling because "stubborn survival is our only rebellion." But survival to what end when so many are lost and so much is destroyed? Brkic's refined, surprising, and resonant stories encapsulate the truth about humankind's capacity for violence, selfishness, and altruism. -- Donna Seaman for Booklist

In this first collection, Croatian American Brkic takes an intimate look at the effects of war in the Balkans. Her strong, lean writing vividly details the wasteland through which her characters struggle as they try to hold onto shreds of their humanity, however small. Whether it's a wife helping her husband deal with the loss of his leg even as she dreams of escaping the entire situation, the daughter of a Serbian leader facing the social and emotional repercussions of her father's office, a husband and wife attempting to reunite after a forced separation in detention camps, a sniper concocting an elaborate list of rules by which to select his victims, or a father dealing with the constant rise and fall of hope as he tracks down each rumored sighting of his missing son, each story depicts people grappling with the physical and emotional loss of loved ones and a way of life. The results are poignant and powerful-and based on firsthand experience. Brkic, who has worked with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, was a forensic archaeologist in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the war. Recommended for academic and public libraries. -- Heather Wright for Library Journal.


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