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Zlata's Diary: A Child's Life in Wartime Sarajevo


Zlata’s Diary begins as the daily record of the life of a typical eleven-year-old girl who spends her days taking her lessons be it piano classes, tennis lessons, choir practice, or English lessons at her Auntie Mika’s. Soon life, known to her for school and birthday parties, became engulfed by war. She became a witness to food shortages, deaths of her friends, deaths of her pets, and family friends. She dreaded taking shelter in the cold and dark cellar. For an eleven-year-old, she suffered a lot. Hunger. Pain. Violence. However, she remained optimistic and hopeful through it all.


Her entire childhood is taken away from her and she starts seeing herself as a “Wartime Child.” Even though Zlata was a child but she was smart enough to understand that the politicians and forces responsible for war are nothing but ‘kids.’ She simply failed to understand how politics worked and why ‘kids’ would choose war over peace. Her views on war are very simple yet powerful/thought-provoking “…the pencil of war which spells only misery and death” and she understands how senseless war is.

She expresses anger and despair on several occasions, writing “I really don’t know whether to go on living and suffering, to go on hoping, or to take a rope and just . . . be done with it.”


This diary gives us the chance to see the war through the eyes of a child. One of the themes that stood out to me from this book is how wars change people. There were times when Zlata was worried about her grades, performances, and birthday parties. As the war started her worries shifted and life became all about surviving. However, the child in her continued to wish to celebrate birthdays, Christmas, and New Year’s with cakes even if it was a WARTIME BIRTHDAY.


It made me ponder upon the events of the world and how children in Waziristan, Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, and Iraq must survive? The psychological scars of traumatic experiences stay with them forever and the fear of going through something like that again follows them forever like a shadow.

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Zalata’s Diary was such an interesting read. We can even draw parallels between Anne Frank and Zlata with how their experience of conflict shaped them. It shows how young children, who have barely even formed a well rounded perception of the world are forced to grow up too fast as they are thrown into a war stricken world, barely understanding the reason behind things and having to form their own perceptions of it. It changes them as a person, perhaps irreversibly. It also helps showcase just how horrible war can be and then effect it has on the minds of young people

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I can even imagine what a child’s life without schools, friends and parks would be. The constant fear of running to take shelter as soon as you hear a gunfire or sound of shelling must never leave them. Zlatas Diary gives a child’s perspective and makes us understand what goes on in a child’s mind. However, I believe Zlata was a very brave girl and other children might react to conflict in a completely different way and just shut down. They might not be able to help their parents like Zlata did. But I also think they don’t have much of a choice and in order to survive they must not clamp down in a shell.

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It was also worth noting that he entire time she emphasised on the importance of education and how she just wanted to go back to school. War not only steals ones life and childhood but also takes away the basic necessity of learning and acquiring knowledge which is just unfathomable.

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Yes it was very sad the way she constantly added that schooling is a very important part of a child’s life and it is not fair for it to be taken snatched from them in such a way. At one place she even referred to herself as a “Schoolgirl without a school”. Moreover having to go through the trauma of seeing your school after it’s blown up and destroyed by war is just unfathomable. I can’t even imagine the trauma that view would have given the children, a place where they once played and laughed together became a war ruin.

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The way her story is told reminds me of Malala and the fact that our people have called her ”foreign funded” and what not makes me wonder if we are immune to this concept or we conveniently remain ignorant. How do you think we can actually make people understand the trauma of conflict and also that choosing to live a better life post conflict is not a crime?

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I think its about creating awareness amongst the society and about the various aspects of trauma. Raising awareness would help in making people understand that victims of conflict can and should be able to live a better life, without it being considered a crime, post conflict as people are able to empathize more once they see and understand someone else's trauma.

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