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Time and Tide in Sarajevo by Bronwyn Birdsall


Evelyn is teaching English in Sarajevo, a beautiful city still recovering almost two decades after the long and brutal siege in the 1990s.

Life in the city is tenuous yet welcoming. Dedicated to her work preparing high-schoolers for a scholarship that could change the course of their lives, Evelyn feels more herself here than at home in Australia. But when the teenage son of a local hero is stabbed and it seems like a cover-up will let the killer go free, Sarajevans take to the streets in protest.

When Evelyn discovers evidence that could ignite the volatile situation, putting both her students' ambitions and her friendships at risk, she faces an impossible decision.

Gripping and heartfelt, Time and Tide in Sarajevo asks: how do we find hope in a world that feels beyond repair?

Time and Tide in Sarajevo. What can I say? I loved it. I absolutely loved it. It is a must read for everyone. I will admit when I started reading the story, I struggled to determine its purpose. Why did Bronwyn focus on this? Why does the protagonist seem so out of place? What’s missing in this story? But I read on. And boy, am I glad I did.

Bronwyn writes with a type of precision that only comes from within. The story is crafted with meticulous sentences (though toward the end the writing did slip a little), and Bronwyn balances action and tension and authentic dialogue and introspection so well. I found myself pausing at certain moments. Much of this pleasure comes from the way Bronwyn has incorporated the culture of Bosnia through the language. Her choice of Bosnian words to italicise were spot on—it made me nostalgic for a time that once was. Bronwyn’s world building was also a pleasant surprise—the coffee drinking, the politics, the sharp dialogue—and it was a surprise because Bronwyn constructed this world of Sarajevo as she knew it with such cultural sensitivity that it didn’t make me feel like she was imposing herself onto the scene through her writing.

This brings me to Evelyn. I didn’t really enjoy Evelyn as a character. I found her inner conflict and turmoil a little difficult to relate to, only because she appears so out of place throughout the entire novel. BUT… the beauty of reflection, and as I write this review, is that this is the whole point. Evelyn is an outsider. She doesn’t belong, and she knows this. The characters around her, which act more as protagonists than Evelyn herself, are what drive the story forward. Evelyn is just an observer, learning the ways of Bosnian culture, politics, life. She, too, like Bronwyn with her writing, doesn’t want to impose herself onto a world that is not her own.

The novel takes place within a span of a few days—this is testament to Bronwyn’s gift as a writer. The story is tight; the tension builds slowly but surely, hour by hour, and follows the unfolding of events from the ground in a way that surprises not only the readers, but the characters in the story, too. The way the story ends can seem a little implausible for certain readers, but it is very authentic to how politics runs in a country as complex as Bosnia. This is because Bosnia is a place that is plagued by post-war inter-generational trauma. It is still healing, so there are broken pieces yet to be found.

While Bronwyn does do justice to the world building, there were moments where I lost my sense of place while reading the novel. What is happening and where is it happening were questions that often popped into my mind. I also found it difficult to accept the relationship Evelyn had with certain characters—there were lots!—but I guess that can come down to perspective: is it because Evelyn is just a reserved person so we don’t get to see that relationship build up? Whatever the case, the quick connections and introductions to multiple characters jarred the pace of the story for me, just a tiny bit.

Time and Tide in Sarajevo does a superb job at exploring the everyday. It is a novel that has you holding your breath while also allowing you to relax and enjoy life as it comes. It makes you think deeply about life and love and our place in this world. I highly recommend it!

If you enjoyed this review, listen to my conversation with Bronwyn about her fantastic debut novel here.

How would you rate this book?

  • Loved it!

  • It was alright.

  • Not a fan!

  • It's on my TBR pile.

Until next time,

Mirela Cufurovic


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