Lara and Marija have always been more like sisters than friends. Growing up in the Balkans, they spent every summer together in Sarajevo, stealing fruit from the neighbor’s gardens and quoting classic Hollywood movies. The friendship only deepened in college, where they shared everything from fiercely anti-nationalist sentiments to a pale, white boy named Milko. Life was about ideological, heady conversations in tiny cafes over shots of vodka and reckless nights spent tangled in sheets.
But when the Bosnian war begins, Lara, a Serb, and Marija, a Bosnian, are forced to face the realities of their separate identities. Lara moves to Washington, D.C., with her American husband, where she throws herself into her graduate studies in political science and tries desperately to nurture an unraveling marriage. Meanwhile, Marija returns to Sarajevo to work as an undercover journalist. When contact with Marija suddenly ceases, Lara is gripped with a fear that she has lost her. Amid the chaos and mess of her personal life and driven by her desire to know the truth, Lara embarks on a journey through war-torn Serbia in an attempt to discover what really happened to her dearest friend.
Country of Red Azaleas, the third novel from Romanian writer Domnica Radulescu, is a tightly wrought, beautiful story of friendship. Whether she’s conjuring up the colorful sights and smells of the prewar Balkans or describing the “fierce clarity of the war” where you “get to see humanity all bare,” Radulescu creates images that lodge themselves firmly in your consciousness, giving you ideas to ponder long after you turn the final page. In the tradition of Elena Ferrante and Khaled Hosseini, Country of Red Azaleas prevails as a true testament to a bond that transcends the devastation of war.