Courtney Angela Brkic


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


The Stone Fields
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (US) and Granta (UK), 2004

Shortlisted for the Freedom of Expression Prize by the Index on Censorship, Selected as One of the 50 Best Books of 2004 by the San Jose Mercury News

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The massacre at Srebrenica in 1995, during which more than seven thousand people were killed, remains the most brutal act of genocide in Europe since World War II. In The Stone Fields, Courtney Angela Brkic, the acclaimed author of Stillness, recounts how she joined a forensic team working in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina. She excavated the bodies of people killed in the massacre, assisted pathologists with autopsies, and arranged personal effects for photographing. In those items—the hand-knit socks, mended shirts, and half-destroyed photographs—she found more than proof of indiscriminate murder, however. Where some saw only nameless victims, she discerned men with individual histories, as well as the families who were waiting for them.

Brkic has woven together her lyrical elegy to the region's recent dead with her Croatian family's story. She tells of her grandmother's childhood in a Herzegovinian village surrounded by harsh limestone hills, her early widowhood and subsequent move to Sarajevo, and her imprisonment during World War II for hiding her Jewish lover. The saga culminates years later when Brkic's father escapes from Communist Yugoslavia.

The Stone Fields explores how the devastating consequences of war linger for generations; the book asks what it really takes to prevent the violent loss of life, and what we are willing to risk in the process.

Published in 2004 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux (US) and Granta (UK)



Click here to listen to 'Field of Bones', a song by Belinda Gent (who performs under the name of bemuzic) who wrote it after reading The Stone Fields




"Written with lyrical precision." -- Richard Eder, The New York Times

"Brkic tells [her story] sensitively, sparely, and with quiet passion." -- Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World

“A beautifully written book, by turns grim, stirring, heartbreakingly sad, but always affecting.” –San Diego Union Tribune

"Harrowing . . . The Stone Fields is more than a memoir of the latest Balkan bloodletting. It is also an intimate history of the Balkans since the end of World War I. In sections entitled 'Herzegovina 1918-1931,' 'Sarajevo 1933-1945,' and 'Liberation 1945-1959,' Brkic re-creates the battered lives of her father's parents and sisters under the succession of regimes and circumstances that followed the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire with an almost folkloric intensity . . . Brkic establishes character and complexity, including her own, with the authority of an experienced novelist." -- Elinor Langer, The Oregonian

"A dark, deeply moving memoir of time, loss, and survival . . . [Brkic] skillfully balances spare, almost mundane, details of body bags and bullets fused to bone with descriptions of the living-families of the dead, who still hold out hope that their missing will return. In these heartbreaking portraits, the real horror of Brkic's task emerges . . . The Stone Fields is a beautifully written book, by turns grim, stirring, heartbreakingly sad, but always affecting." -- Debra Ginsberg, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"A memoir where the beauty of the writing only heightens the sadness and horror of the story." -- Mike Leary, The Baltimore Sun

"Being an archaeologist, Brkic digs for sometimes distant, sometimes recent history, putting her findings into beautiful and poetic language that conjures up lively imagery . . . Describing herself as an 'inheritor of stories,' she weaves through layers of past and present in a deeply personal, diary-style narration filled with persecution, forbidden love, betrayal, loss, survival, and war. From her grandmother hiding her Jewish lover during World War II to her own experiences in present-day Croatia, Brkic's stories bear testimony to the fact that the human capacity for evil is infinite and remind us that peace is fragile and demands great efforts." -- David Moisl, San Francisco Chronicle

"Powerful . . . The Stone Fields joins the work of journalist Joe Sacco and fiction writer Aleksandar Hemon as required reading, not just for people who want to learn about the Balkans, but for people who want to experience great literature." -- John Freeman, The Commercial Appeal

"Brkic is an extraordinary woman . . . with an extraordinary story to tell." -- Margaret Grayson, The Roanoke Times

"Brkic intertwines her family's poignant story, including the lives of her grandmother and aunts who lived through World War II and the recent Balkan conflict, with her own experiences on the forensics team [in Bosnia]. The result is part memoir, part history, and part political commentary, stitched together in beautifully wrought, sensitive prose that makes reading about war and ethnic cleansing bearable, and inspires an unremitting desire for peace at last." -- Skye K. Moody, The Seattle Times

"Brkic is a talented writer . . . The dual story lines of The Stone Fields weave between present and past. In the hands of an unskilled writer, the chronological and thematic flip-flopping would not work, but Brkic handles it with a deft touch; her talent with the language of fiction brings on a nonfiction narrative with true softness. The telling of her grandmother's life is exquisite. Its reach and intensity delve into the 20th-century history of her ancestral lands and of human nature—its cruelties and its kindnesses, its betrayals and sacrifices." -- Peter Maass, Los Angeles Times

"Combines poetry with politics and intimate family stories with the stark history of a nation to create a powerful parable for our times that both moves and educates the reader." -- Chitra Divakaruni, author of The Vine of Desire

"The Stone Fields is much more than another reckoning with the Balkans' recent atrocities. It is a book of graceful prose and inventive architecture—a work of literature that lures us into the harrowing and beautiful depths of the near and distant past." -- Daniel Bergner, author of God of the Rodeo and In the Land of Magic Soldiers

"In times of war, it is books like these that give hope. Brkic's attempt to honor the dead as well as the living, to record the suffering and injuring that is the reality of war, is beautifully done and deeply felt." -- Micheline Aharonian Marcom, author of The Daydreaming Boy

"Every once in a while one comes across a person who is self-evidently a 'writer' in the true sense: gifted, passionate, single-minded, but with a heart as proudly mysterious as the stories of our wild world and as big as all the suffering we witness." -- Breyten Breytenbach, author of The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist

"Brkic's emotional frankness, gift for vivid portraiture, ability to write about the dead with elegiac grace and scientific precision, and deep compassion for the victims of genocide create a riveting and thought-provoking reflection on mankind's barbarity and heroism." -- Donna Seaman, Booklist

"With her poet's eye for the passionately telling detail and her archeological patience for emergent patterns, Brkic, who won the Whiting Award last year for her story collection Stillness, achieves a cumulative power that sticks in the mind as stubbornly as the clay from Bosnia's 'vast fields of churned ground,' glued with its dark secrets to her boots." -- Ben Dickinson, Elle

"The Stone Fields has a haunting, lyrical economy. Brkic wonderfully blends precise depictions of a harsh land and hard lives with a deep and sympathetic understanding of what people have endured. Added to this is a keen self-awareness that never becomes self-indulgence. It's a book designed to banish ignorance, and it goes a long way toward its goal." -- Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News

"Hypnotic . . . Poetic writing and vivid imagery bring this area and its people to life with a certain amount of exoticness and mystery. Recommended for public and academic libraries, particularly those collecting in Eastern and Southeastern European studies." -- Library Journal

"This heartbreaking memoir winds between Brkic's years in war-ravaged Bosnia (1993, 1996-1997), first interviewing refugees and then excavating mass graves outside Srebrenica, where 7,000 Muslim males were slaughtered, and including her family's history in Bosnia-Herzegovina surrounding WWII. Brkic, an archeologist, was 21 when she first began working in Bosnia with the UN International War Crimes Tribunal, and 24 during her second foray, with Physicians for Human Rights. A first-generation American of Croatian descent, she returns to Bosnia, invoking what, postwar, is only memory: the land of idyllic childhood summers where she remembers her aunt's catfish swimming in a tub and the taste of lamb fed on chamomile leaves in a countryside now littered with land mines. In the former garment factory, now morgue, outside Tuzla, where she works, Brkic feels alien to the other human rights workers; her ties to the region superimpose the face of her brother on the newly dead; her assertion that not everyone bears equivalent guilt for the war causes her to angrily demand that Serb workers not excavate the mass graves she believes they had a hand in fulfilling. Whiting Award winner Brkic's haunting, hopeless memoir is an agonizing treatise on the awful cost of war and its long, pain-stoked aftermath in which, as she records it, those outside forget and those inside can barely continue living." -- Publishers Weekly

“Brkic galvanized readers with her first book, Stillness (2003), a Whiting Award-winning short story collection inspired by her unnerving work as a forensic archaeologist in war-torn Bosnia. She now presents an equally commanding memoir in which she chronicles her psychically demanding and dangerous work as part of a UN-directed effort to identify the remains of the massacred innocents of Srebrenica, and unearths the astonishing story of her paternal grandmother, a Croatian Catholic from Herzegovina. Orphaned at 14, then widowed young and left with two sons, Andelka flees the poverty of her village for Sarajevo, only to put her and her sons' lives in jeopardy by falling in love with, and hiding, a Jew during the Nazi occupation. The overlay of intimate tales from two demonically violent times makes for a highly dramatic work, and Brkic's emotional frankness, gift for vivid portraiture, ability to write about the dead with elegiac grace and scientific precision, and deep compassion for the victims of genocide create a riveting and thought-provoking reflection on humankind's barbarity and heroism.” -- Donna Seaman for Booklist

“Short-story author Brkic (Stillness, 2003) combines a stirring, elegiac memoir of time spent picking up the dreadful remains of recent Balkan history with an exploration into her grandmother's life in the region. Names like Tuzla and Srebrenica send shivers down the spines of even those without a clue about where those towns sit on the fault lines of new Eastern Europe. Evil things happened there, the fallout of something sour and hoary among Muslims, Serbs, Croats, Slavonians, and Bosnians, and it was Brkic's job as a volunteer American field archaeologist to recover the remains of people who had been killed and dropped into graves, mass and otherwise. Seven thousand died in the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 alone, so there was plenty of work for her, as well as the pathologists, anthropologists, and the band of armed protectors accompanying them. Brkic had other matters to attend to as well; her paternal grandmother had lived in the area, and the author retells a grim story of internal exile and young widowhood, arrest for harboring a Jewish man during WWII, striving to stay put on shaky ground during the time of Tito vs. Stalin. That same ground shakes Brkic as well: she washes bones that have been delicately excavated, or dries clothes in hopes that they may be identified and a family's hopes laid to rest. Once her group recovers a rare letter from a remain; it had gone through the wash, and a co-worker brought it to her "cradled in the palm of his hand like an injured bird." The author displays a dark temperament in her narrative-hardly surpassing, given its content-and though meeting family members and finding a lover slightly lighten her load, she is finally undone by the horror of it all. Bears faithful, sensitive witness to the centuries' dire impact on Eastern Europe.” -– Kirkus Reviews


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