I’m thrilled to be the first stop on Lesleyanne’s blog tour. Check out her website to see a full list of the NL writer’s blogs she will visit and to find out how you can win a signed copy of Braco!
Lesleyanne has provided an excerpt of her novel and so I will share that and my review a little later, but first, I have questions.
KR: What compelled you to tell Atif’s story?
LAR: While serving in Visoko, Bosnia in 1993/94, our unit had 150 peacekeepers in Srebrenica. One of the drivers who went back and forth to the town delivering supplies asked me to help him find some food that he could take to a boy and his family in the besieged town, and for the next few months, I gave him whatever I could find. We lost contact with the boy when our troops were replaced by the Dutch and sixteen months later, the Bosnian Serb army invaded the town and subsequently murdered up to 8000 men and boys. I don’t know what became of the boy and wrote this book as a way to explain to myself what may have happened to him.
KR: It’s a gripping novel, even more so since you are a first-hand witness to the war. Have you always wanted to write or did this story make the decision for you?
LAR: I developed PTSD after I returned from Bosnia and it eventually led to my retirement from the Armed Forces in 2002. Around this time, someone suggested that I start writing about my experiences and I soon found it actually helped combat some of the PTSD symptoms. Writing is not so much therapy for me as it is a drug. The best part is that it’s free, legal and I can still operate heavy machinery.
KR: I love that last line. You should trademark it. 🙂 What was the hardest scene to write? Without spoilers.
LAR: It’s impossible to say which scene was the hardest without a spoiler, but I can say that it has to do with the character of Tarak.
KR: Why did you write Braco from six points of view?
LAR: I originally planned to tell the story only from Atif’s point of view, but it didn’t work as well as I wanted. I found that by including the six points of view, it not only helps the reader understand the motivations of the other five characters, but it also helped me accomplish the one goal I had from the start – to tell as much of the story surrounding the fall of Srebrenica as possible.
KR: You’ve certainly accomplished that, Lesleyanne. What’s your favourite tool in your writer’s toolkit?
LAR: My beta readers.
KR: Yep, I hear ya. They’re worth their weight in gold. Ok, let’s turn the questions to matters closer to home. What Canadian staple would you prefer? Poutine or Kraft Dinner?
LAR: Poutine – with the real cheese curds. Like I used to get from a little take out in Val-Belair, Quebec.
KR: Ooooooh, good answer. As a former member of the Canadian Military (thank you from the bottom of my heart) what would you say to young people considering the Canadian Forces as a career today?
LAR: I know from my own experience that it’s hard to tell a young person not to do it because the lure of adventure is so strong. I would advise anyone considering the Armed Forces to seek out a young veteran and ask them what it’s really like because there are so many misconceptions about what army life is like. The few young people who’ve asked me were surprised at some of the stuff I told them and I know several of them decided against it. In their cases, they had opportunities to go to university and trades college and I encouraged them to do that.
KR: Might be an interesting blog post for you. I know my curiosity is piqued. When were you most proud to be Canadian?
LAR: When Ken Taylor brought home the stranded Americans from Iran in 1979.
KR: When you served overseas (again thank you from the bottom of my heart), what did you miss most from home?
KR: Mmmmmmm, bananas. Yeah I’d miss them too. Thank you for your responses, Lesleyanne. I just have one further question. Is there a follow up to Braco in the works? Tell us what you can about it.
LAR: I have a possible sequel to Braco in my head. I haven’t put anything on paper yet. In the meantime, I’m working on telling my own story from Bosnia as fiction.
KR: I will definitely keep my eye out for it. Thank you so much for joining me today and for sharing your experience with this book and as a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces. We’re lucky to have people like you willing to serve.
See below for an excerpt from Braco, my review, and more about this award winning author.
Excerpt from Braco by Lesleyanne Ryan
They looked up. A tall figure eclipsed the high sun. Atif raised his hand to shield his eyes. The Serb soldier wore a dark uniform, which had a tiger emblem on the sleeve. A rifle hung from his shoulder, lazily pointing in their direction.
“How old are you, boy?”
The women stood.
“He’s fourteen,” his mother replied.
“No, he’s older,” the Serb said. “He’s a soldier. I’ve seen you, boy. On the front line.”
“I’m not a soldier.”
“Yes, you are. I’ve seen you. You’ve killed Serb women and children.” He pointed to Atif’s temple. “You’re a soldier. You were injured.”
“One of your shells did that while he was playing,” Ina said. “This boy has been at home, helping us grow food and helping his mother teach the younger children. He’s never held a rifle in his life.”
“We can test his hands for residue. If he has fired a weapon, we’ll know.” The soldier moved towards Atif. “We need to question him.”
Both women stepped in front of the soldier. The Serb moved towards them, stopping inches from Atif’s mother, scowling. His eyes dropped to her chest, and he reached across to touch the crucifix around her neck. She pulled back.
“Why do you wear this?”
“Because I’m a Christian,” his mother said.
“Your husband is Muslim.”
“He was a soldier.”
“No. He was a father trying to feed his family.”
“No. He was a soldier. He taught your son to fight.”
“He taught him how to farm.”
The soldier bared his teeth and returned his attention to the crucifix. “You’re not Christian.” He tore it from her neck. “You’re a Turk whore.”
Pushing her aside, the soldier snatched at Atif. He backed up under the bus as far as possible. The Serb crouched, reached his hand under the bus, snagged Atif’s ankle and pulled. The twins grabbed Tihana and turned away, crying. Atif yelled and kicked; the hand released him.
It didn’t return.
Where is it?
Atif wrapped his arms around the driveshaft and waited for the claws to reappear. A second pair of combat boots appeared instead.
A familiar voice.
“What’s going on here?”
Review of Braco by Kate Robbins
“What you see is not true and what is true is not seen.”
Braco follows the journey of a young boy as he and his family flee Srebrenica to escape the approaching Serbian army. Told from six points of view, the boy, his mother, a Dutch peacekeeper, a Canadian journalist, a Serb soldier, and a Bosnian soldier, Braco gives a broad spectrum of the war and its impact on those caught in its grip.
I wasn’t sure about the multiple points of view at first. The story is primarily about the boy, Atif, and his desperate attempt to survive and so I worried the other POVs would jar and confuse me. They didn’t. Not by a long shot. What became apparent was that the author wanted the reader to see that the business of war is not black and white. Many shades lie between and as the Dutch peacekeepers and Canadian journalists often question, “Bad guys?” or “Good guys?”. Lines blur in the midst of chaos.
Ryan’s writing is clean and concise. I love the almost journalistic style which allowed me to connect at my own pace. The subject material in this novel is disturbing and I wasn’t bombarded by the author preaching what I should feel. I appreciated that. Braco is an incredible novel telling an incredible story. I look forward to many more from this author.
Lesleyanne RyanLesleyanne was born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland. A retired Canadian Forces veteran who served in Bosnia in 1993-94, she graduated from Memorial University with a BA in English and Diploma in Creative Writing in 2008. Her short stories have won four times at the NL Arts and Letters Awards and three have been published. In 2011, the unpublished manuscript of Braco won the NL Credit Union’s Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers and Breakwater published it in 2012. Lesleyanne lives near St. John’s in perpetual service to her two cats.