Trigger warning for discussion of rape.
Kim Echlin creates a protagonist who can navigate, in fiction, real events during and after the Yugoslav Wars in Speak, Silence. An old love of travel journalist Gota Dobson connects her to a group of remarkable women who are trying to get justice for the women of Foča, located in a still disputed part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The women of Foča were kidnapped and subjected to repeated rape and torture during the war. Now, years later, some of these women will testify against the man who ordered their victimization as part of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Gota, at first, struck me as an odd choice as a narrator for this book. Why not one of the women who is testifying? Or one of their lawyers? Or someone closer to the crimes being adjudicated in the tribunal? Gota is Canadian. She is only sort of connected to the tribunal because she fell in love with a Bosnian man—who is in love with one of the lead witnesses. Gota’s desire to be close to Kosmos brings her into Edina’s orbit, just as she and her lawyer are deciding who will (and who can) testify at the tribunal. It wasn’t until I got near the end of the book that I figured out a reason for having someone only tangentially connected to the Yugoslav Wars be the narrator. Gota is an every-woman who also has a talent for eloquently writing about her observations. Being an every-women means that we can easily put ourselves in Gota’s shoes, as she witnesses to the witnesses at the tribunals.
Speak, Silence is a hard book to read but, I think, an important one—especially in a time where #MeToo is still working towards justice for women who’ve experienced sexual harassment and assault. We live in a world where rape is very rarely punished, especially when it’s been weaponized during war. Women (and men) who have been raped are too often left to stay silent to avoid social shame, who’ve been told that being raped might be their fault, and who might have to see the people who brutalized them walking around unpunished. Not only does Speak, Silence ask us to confront all of this, it also leaves us with the question of what justice even looks like. Even if the women win their case and the defendant is convicted, how can there be reparations?
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.