My semester begins this week, which means lots of meetings plus the usual chaos of getting students settled into the right classes and ready to go. I’m extra busy, though, because on Sunday I’ll be leaving for a week in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH), where I have a conference to present at.
Although I’ve been to the neighboring country of Croatia many times, and even lived there twice for short periods, I’ve been to BiH only once before, when I was able to spend 4 days in Sarajevo and Mostar. It’s a beautiful, fascinating country with a rich (and sometimes tragic) history. Mostar was the inspiration for Zidar, the fictional town in my novella “The Pillar.”
(Actually, I was in BiH one other time, while traveling by car from Dubrovnik to Split. Both of those cities are on the Croatian coast, but a little blip of BiH divides them, meaning you spend about 10 minutes in BiH as you pass through. They do check your passport and everything, though.)
I don’t think I’ll make it to Mostar this time, although I’m hoping for a day trip to some places in eastern Bosnia and western Serbia. Most of my week, though, will be in Sarajevo. That city is sometimes called “Jerusalem of Europe” or “Little Istanbul.” I’ve stood there inside an old Sephardic Jewish synagogue and looked out at a mosque, an Eastern Orthodox church, and a Catholic church. I doubt there are many places in the world where that’s possible.
What’s especially cool is that Sarajevo serves as one of the primary models for Starograd, the capital of Vasnitsya–which is the setting for my upcoming novel, The Spy’s Love Song. Vasnitsya is entirely fictional, of course. And while it’s run by a totalitarian dictator, BiH is most definitely not; BiH is a democratically-run republic (with a somewhat unusual governmental structure due to recent political conflicts). In addition, my imaginary city of Starograd was also influenced by other places I’ve visited in Central and Eastern Europe, including Warsaw, Budapest, Zagreb, and Prague. But when it comes to descriptions of what Starograd looks like, of the parts of the city built during the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, as well as the parts built during communist times, Sarajevo is the biggest contributor.
I will, of course, post photos. So if you’re not already following me on social media, now would be a good time to add me. My photos from BiH might make reading The Spy’s Love Song more fun.