A riveting novel about two women—one Serbian, one Bosnian—whose deep friendship spans decades and continents, war and peace, love and estrangement, in the vein of Elena Ferrante and Julia Alvarez.
From the moment Marija walks into Lara's classroom, freshly moved to Serbia from Sarajevo, Lara is enchanted by her vibrant beauty, confidence, and wild energy—and knows that the two are destined to be lifelong friends. Closer than sisters, the girls share everything, from stolen fruit and Hollywood movies as girls to philosophies and even lovers as young women. But when the Bosnian War pits their homelands against each other in a bloodbath, Lara and Marija are forced to separate for the first time: romantic Lara heads to America with her Hollywood-handsome new husband, and fierce Marija returns to her native Sarajevo to combat the war through journalism behind Bosnian lines.
In America, Lara seeks fulfillment through work and family, but when news from Marija ceases, the uncertainty torments Lara, driving her on a quest to find her friend. As Lara travels through war-torn Serbia and Bosnia, following clues that may yet lead to the flesh-and-blood Marija, she must also wrestle with truths about her own identity.
Told in lush, vivid prose, COUNTRY OF RED AZALEAS is a poignant testament to both the power of friendship and our ability to find meaning and beauty in the face of devastation.
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"With tenderness and pathos, Yelena Shmulenson narrates this unusual story of passionate friendship between two women. Lara first sees Marija in her primary school class in Belgrade. She is immediately smitten by the beautiful young girl from Sarajevo. Shmulenson's hint of an Eastern European accent works well as the girls' friendship develops through elementary school, their bond growing stronger when, as university students in Belgrade, they engage in radical protests. When Lara meets and marries an American soldier and moves to Washington, DC, Marija moves back to Sarajevo as a journalist. Shmulenson deftly delivers the lush, if sometimes overwrought, prose describing the cities, but her strongest moments occur when she's describing Lara's guilt at having left her war-torn homeland and her eventual return and desperate search for Marija. S.J.H. © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine"
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