My reading of Letters from the Fire and More...

by Jan Baughman

September 18, 2000



On March 27, 2000, Gilles d'Aymery received the following E-mail:
Subject: Congratulations
...on a good, informative site.

You may be interested in reading something on the Kosovo anniversary at http://www.keep-in-touch.org/ or directly at http://www.keep-in-touch.org/anniversary/. If you would be interested in the article as a Swans contribution, I'd be honoured to submit it for your consideration.

Thank you for your site, and best wishes,

Alma Hromic
"The difference between journalism and literature
is that journalism is unreadable
and literature is unread."
Oscar Wilde

Gilles visited the site and read the article. In the evening he talked to me at length about the excitement he felt. "We must buy this book," he said. "She [Alma Hromic] expresses so much and far better what I have been writing for over one year now. And she has a knowledge of history that cannot be challenged. At best they -- he meant the main media, "Officialdom" -- will ignore her, avoid her at will, but they will not challenge her." Why, I asked? "Because she has her facts straight and stays above the political fray. You can't label her as pro so-and-so. She's only pro humans and she has a sensitivity that reaches to the core of our emotions," I remember him saying (although I may paraphrase him a bit...). On the same day, he answered Alma Hromic's as follows:

Dear Alma,

Thank you for your E-mail and words of praise for Swans.

Reciprocally, I'll be honored to publish your piece. It is very well written and emotionally powerful. Actually, your article fits one purpose of mine in regard to Swans' publications about the Serbian tragedy (which is also a Yugoslav tragedy). That is, to reverse the demonization, the dehumanization of the Serbs in people's mind. To do so, one must emphasize the humanity of the Serbian culture, of the Serbian soul, through human and personal stories.

Horrified by the turn of events for the past decade, by the lies and the cunningness, we've all mistakenly, albeit understandably, focused on trying to re-establish the truth. And, perhaps due to utter denial (how can "they", our friends of always, how can they say this or that, do this or that?) we did not respond to or thwart the villainous campaign of de-humanization, so preoccupied were we all to answer the disinformation.

But then, once the Serbs were fully demonized, no westerner would believe them anymore. Do you see what I mean? It's been a very, very devious process leading to the fact that the more Serbian attempts to "tell it as it was" were made, the less they were trusted or believed.

If you care to read some of my writing from April 10 onward, you will notice my efforts, however limited or poor they may have been, to remind the readers of Serbian humaneness.

Again, I'll be honored to publish your piece and add a word about your book (as well as a link to your site). I also hope that you will let your friends know about Swans.

Best regards,

Gilles d'Aymery

Well, we never bought the book. Two days before publication time, Hromic's piece was linked on Antiwar.com. We chose not to publish it in these circumstances. Gilles was devastated as he had worked many hours to format the piece in such a way that it would promote the book. And it was even harder on him to have to correspond with Alma on this mishap. No need to get into further details on this episode. But three or four days later we had a package delivered by FEDEX. It was a copy of Letters from the Fire, with a very kind dedication in French.

Gilles and Alma have regularly corresponded ever since. Actually, it is thanks to Alma that Aleksandra Priestfield, a friend of her, started publishing on, and working with Swans.

For my part, I've just read Letters from the Fire, over a year after its publication and NATO's systematic destruction of Serbia and Kosovo. The book is presented in the form of E-mail exchanges between Sasha, a Serbian woman living in Novi Sad, and Dave, an American man living in Florida. It is so real that I felt at times as if I was eavesdropping on their conversations and unfolding relationship. And at the same time, I could not stop reading. It is intensely powerful, emotional and challenging. I will read this book each time our leaders explain why it is necessary to use military force against this rogue nation or that thug, and I will read this book again for its sensitivity and humanity.

Sasha brings to life the beauty and vitality of her country and the absolute horrors and fallacies of the war. She reveals the truths behind the lies, while Dave defends NATO's actions and the US role. I was uncomfortable reading his words -- uncomfortable because Dave, in the novel, is the embodiment of Americans' naiveté and blind faith in the government. We have no idea what it means to be bombed, destroyed, sanctioned, dehumanized, dislocated, as much as Dave tried to argue that we do. And we are ignorant about the countries and the peoples we destroy. (One has to wonder if the government intentionally keeps our educational standards low...) Through demonization, depersonalization and ignorance, public support can be maintained.

It is not too late to read Letters from the Fire. Although the war campaign has moved from humanitarian bombing to so-called peace-keeping forces, as in Iraq we could very well bomb again. And who knows when and what country we'll strike next.

Those of us who vote, who have electricity and telephone lines, who have hands with which to write a letter and voices with which to say to our government, "No, we do not accept this behavior" need to do so. If this book does not move you to tears, and inspire you to action, nothing will.

Buy the book.


Related links

Sadness in Novi Sad, Serbia - by Alma Hromic

Smiles Amid the Sadness: A Response - by Alex Jay Berman

Poem: She Was Bridge-Killed - by Pedja Zoric

Subject: Into Myth - by Alma Hromic

On the Anniversary - by Alma Hromic


Resources on the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath


Articles Published on Swans Regarding the War in Yugoslavia and its Aftermath

Published September 18, 2000
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