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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Like Eating a Stone

Wojciech Tochman

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To purchase Like Eating a Stone

Title: Like Eating a Stone
Author: Wojciech Tochman
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2003 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 127 pages
Original in: Polish
Availability: Like Eating a Stone - US
Like Eating a Stone - UK
Like Eating a Stone - Canada
Mordre dans la pierre - France
  • US subtitle: Surviving the Past in Bosnia
  • Polish title: Jakbyś kamień jadła
  • Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
  • With numerous photographs

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective account of the Bosnian aftermath

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 28/4/2008 Chaz Folkes
The Guardian A 31/5/2008 Steve Poole
The NY Times Book Rev. . 5/10/2008 Matthew Price
The Times . 15/3/2008 Iain Finlayson

  Review Consensus:


  From the Reviews:
  • "Without judgment or commentary, the book lets the voices of the survivors relate this harrowing search." - Chaz Folkes, Financial Times

  • "(H)arrowing, superlative (...) The prose, in Antonia Lloyd-Jones's translation, 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." - Steve Poole, The Guardian

  • "In the spare and bleak Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia, the Polish journalist Wojciech Tochman chronicles the aftermath of war in Bosnia and, if anything, confirms that the so-called peace has brought little actual peace. Yet he is not polemical about this point; instead, he relies on suggestive details, pungent quotes and simple, understated prose that is mannered at times but powerful in its own way." - Matthew Price, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Tochman is a man of few words. His lapidary style, narrating the atrocities of the war and its fallout, is all the more powerful for its restraint: outrage speaks terribly for itself, needs no hype, no colour." - Iain Finlayson, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Like Eating a Stone is a short tour of Bosnia several years after the Dayton Accords that ended most fighting in the former Yugoslavia. Tochman focuses on the work identifying bodies from the mass graves that continue to be found, and on the families looking for the remains of their loved ones. He talks to survivors, but comes across mainly shattered lives, in a literally shattered world.
       This is a world where:

     Three questions are never asked in today's Bosnia: How is your husband ? How is your son ? What did you do during the war ?
       Eerily, the Serb men disappear when journalists are around, afraid of being identified in a photograph or on TV. Distrust between communities still runs deep, especially as the re-drawn borders have shifted populations. Members from ethnic groups do go back to reclaim their houses or property, but often just to fix them up and sell them. There's little work to be had; there are few men, and in some places no children.
       Tochman follows the work of Dr.Ewa Klonowski, who has "dug up some two thousand bodies", helping to identify remains. Many people still look for closure: "I never miss a single exhumation", one woman says, still holding out hope.
       One of the first scenes is of Dr.Klonowski showing some bones to a family, including the young daughter, and Tochman mentions she had, at first, been surprised that people brought their children along to these viewings:
     "Why do you drag your children here ?" she had asked
     "So they will remember." Everyone gave the same answer.
       The main feeling seems to be one of resignation; after what they'd been through, nothing could be worse. Many women -- it's almost all women -- describe what happened to them, how they were separated from their husbands and sons, often how they and others were raped.
       The sheer horror of it all is shocking -- all the more so because there has been so little closure: not just in terms of identifying the dead but of bringing the guilty to justice. And, of course, one remembers that all this is also practically everyday, having occurred on smaller and larger scales across the globe for decades, and continuing to do so.
       Tochman also notes that while the international community has stabilised the region and helps support it, there's also a bureaucratic self-interest at work here:
It is in no one's interest in Bosnia to do the exhumations quickly. "God forbid," says Ewa. "It'd be the end of the high incomes, careers, and trips to international conferences. The digging has to be done very gradually. It has got to last for years, until retirement. What about the mothers and widows ? Who cares ?
       Tochman's fairly neutral and spare descriptions, and his allowing the women to speak for themselves without much embellishment, works very well; indeed, the only truly sour note is struck when he abandons this approach. Describing a 'book of missing persons' that's been put together, he notes that where they do not have photographs of the missing they: "put a fleur-de-lis -- the emblem of Bosnia". He notes that many children won't be able to remember what their fathers or older brothers looked like, and then goes way too far in fantasizing about the implications:
When they grow up they are sure to start missing those faces. A fleur-de-lis in a book of missing persons will not be enough. They will want to see what his nose was like, what his cheeks were like, his beard and his hair, and the expression in his eyes. [...] They will talk about their greatest wish: "I'd love to know what my father looked like. Maybe someone has a picture of themselves with him: at school, in the army, or on holiday together near Dubrovnik. Maybe someone will call ..."
       For the most part, however, this is a disturbing and powerful document, and yet another sad reminder of how easily and quickly law and order and any semblance of humanity can break down -- and what the horrific consequences are.

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Like Eating a Stone:
  • Znak foreign rights page
Reviews: Wojciech Tochman: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish reporter Wojciech Tochman was born in 1969.

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© 2008 the complete review

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