Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 20, 2009

How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone (2006), by Sasa Stanisic, translated by Anthea Bell

How the Soldier repairs the Gramophone I didn’t enjoy this.  Not that I expected to ‘enjoy’  any story about the 1992-5 Bosnian War – but I found the style of this novel too exuberant. How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone is written from the POV of a young boy, naïve and foolish and utterly unable to comprehend much of the disaster about to befall his little town. On the one hand this resilience is impressive and on the other his incomprehension is almost endearing, but we, the readers, know what it means when Amelia has to go in the bedroom with a Serbian soldier, and we know about the finality of death.

As the story progresses and his family flees to Germany, he is haunted by his memories of lost friends and it becomes increasingly grim.  The pell-mell frantic prose left me confused about events and I lost track of what was going on.  Wars, of course, are like that, but I wasn’t familiar enough with this one to make sense of it all. In the end, I found myself skipping chunks of it, just to get to the end.


  1. I largely agree with Lisa Hill’s comments. Though I thought the first part of the book powerfully conveyed the incomprehension and confusion of a child caught up in such a situation and was poignant in his wish to magic everything better, I would have welcomed a less fragmented account of his return to Visegrad as an adult in search of his past and of meaning. However, his desperate desire to trace Asija was moving and well put over. Are we to infer from the closing lines that he imagines hearing from her and that in fact she was one of the many thrown in the Drina? Is that a satisfying place to end? I would have welcomed some resolution of his own reactions to past horror and present tragically loose ends. Again, perhaps the young man is no more able than the child to ‘digest’ the tragedy.


  2. Hello Liz, thank you for contributing a comment:)
    I think you might be right in your last suggestion that perhaps the adult can no more make sense of what happened than the child. After all, there is something about implacable hatred based on ethnic or religious identity that is ultimately unknowable – and perhaps it’s not ‘decent’ to make sense of it?
    On the other hand I think it’s unfortunate that when there are so few books available in English about this conflict, this book is difficult to comprehend even for experienced readers. Already there is a generation for whom these events are history, if indeed they know about what happened at all. A more accessible book, written in a more coherent style, could enable a wider awareness of this war.


  3. […] to Germany from Eastern Europe in his case Bosnia and start writing in German .Both Rob and Lisa loved this book ,Here is an interview with him from […]


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