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Unheard voices come to the fore

The book Stolen voices: Young People’s War Diaries from World War I to Iraq can definitely sharpen one’s vision of the tragedy experienced and serve as a lesson in understanding the importance of peace.

books Updated: May 21, 2012 15:10 IST

Stolen Voices...
Edited by Zlata Filipovic and Melanie Challenger
Publisher: Arvind Kumar
Price: Rs 250

“You know the real meaning of peace only if you have been through the war” goes an old Kosovar saying. As for those whose lives have not been touched by the violence or conflicts of the 20th and 21st Centuries, Stolen voices: Young People’s War Diaries from World War I to Iraq can definitely sharpen one’s vision of the tragedy experienced and serve as a lesson in understanding the importance of peace.

Published in 1993, Zlata Filipovic’s diary chronicling her life in a war-torn Sarajevo, catapulted her to international fame. In Stolen Voices…, she, along with co-editor Melanie Challenger, has collated poignant accounts dated between 1914 and 2004, which speak of how “three beautiful and universal qualities — to love, to feel compassion, and to think brilliantly — are snuffed out without trial and resistance” during times of conflict.

The book comprises 13 published, unpublished, forgotten and archived journals written by youngsters aged between 11 and 21, including excerpts from Filipovic’s globally renowned journal Le journal de Zlata.

Though the accounts in the text display a spectrum of emotions such as remorse, contempt, enthusiasm and rebellion, what stares the reader in the face is the loss of youth, innocence and childhood.

If 12-year-old Inge Pollack of Austria, who was transported to England as a part of Kindertransport (in which a solicitor and his wife guaranteed to take care and protect children from European Jewish families), spends her adolescent years longing to return home, then Yithzak Rudashevski of Ukraine spends two years growing up in the inhuman conditions of a bunker.

The similarities between the lives and accounts of these youngsters living in a time of conflict are also quite striking. As Filipovic rightfully describes in the introduction, the voices seem as if they are “talking to each other, complementing each other.” The sameness of their reaction and experiences is uncanny and therefore helps usher in an eye-opening realisation that all human beings are equal in the face of war.