“Like Eating a Stone”
Jakbyś kamień jadła, reportage, Czarne 2008 (3rd ed.), 136 pages, ISBN: 978-83-7536-043-1
France (Noir sur Blanc)
Ukraine (Nasz Czas)
USA (Atlas Books)
Italy (Keller Editore)
Egypt (Sphinx Agency)
Bosna Hercegovina (Magistrat)
Spain (Libros del K.O.)
The subject is the post-Yugoslavian present – the legacy of the war that was fought from 1992 to 1995. However, we are not presented with an overall perspective of the war. Instead of a background, timeline, and statistics, we are given a homogeneous collection of experiences: a series of crimes committed by Serbs against Muslims. The past appears before us in fragments, emerging in the narratives of several female protagonists. This is not, therefore, a complete history, but rather excerpts from a history – scraps of time in which someone has been caught, as if in a trap. Readers are trapped along with the female protagonists. Wojciech Tochman’s reportage Like Eating a Stone is a nightmare of a book. We feel that we need to wake up and flee from it, yet at the same time we are overwhelmed by a sense of imprisonment and paralysis. The author has developed a particular feeling of interiority through a technique of “minimal reportage”. His narration, which might be placed without hesitation in a collection of pre-eminent Polish reporting – Kapuściński’s Shah of Shahs or Hanna Krall’s Shielding the Flame – is defined by maximum withdrawal of the authorial voice, suspension of judgement, and total concentration on the protagonists.
During four years of the war in Bosnia, over 100 000 people lost their lives. But it was months, even years, before the mass graves started to yield up their dead and the process of identification, burial and mourning could begin. For many, the waiting, the searching and the grieving continue to this day. Here we travel through the ravaged post-war landscape in the company of a few survivors (mostly women) as they visit the scenes of their loss: a hall where the clothing of victims is displayed; an underground cave with its pale jumble of bones; a camp for homeless refugees; a city now abandoned to the ghosts of painful memories; a funeral service where a family finally says goodbye. These encounters are snapshots and memorials, a feat of powerful reportage told from the viewpoint of people who have lost nearly everything. With the sensibility [...] of Ryszard Kapuściński, Tochman captures a painful moment in history, as an entire community comes to terms with its raw and recent past.
From the UK and US editions
Without judgement or commentary, the book lets the voices of the survivors relate this harrowing search. The result is a powerful portrayal of a country still suffering from the effects of war.
[A] superlative work of witness… The prose [...] is devastatingly simple and lucid, relying on the cumulative force of declarative sentences, uncommented quotation, and lists. Such a book could be written in no other way.
[Tochman’s] style is all the more powerful for its restrained: outrage speaks terribly for itself, needs no hype, no colour.