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Random Travel Across the Changing Geography of War

Posted by Tom Haines, Globe Travel Writer  June 10, 2009 04:06 PM

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Nearly midway into "The Cellist of Sarajevo," a story about four fictional lives rerouted by a real war, Emina observes to her friend Dragan that the war has forced her to travel local streets she'd never been on before. Or, as she notes: "It has changed my geography."

Her geography was changed because soldiers sat in the hills around Sarajevo from 1992 until 1996 raining upon the city below shells and sniper fire.

I was reading The Cellist of Sarajevo on a train into Boston, and shortly after the passage about personal geography I looked up and saw a nearby passenger reading a story in the Boston Globe that had the headline: "4 Found Liable in N. Ireland's Omagh bombing." That, too, was a massacre of a particularly personal kind, when a sedan packed with explosives tore apart a peaceful day on main street, killing 29.

This double link between places and pain caused me to recall a moment just before the train ride began, when I was standing in a cafe near my home. A poster on the wall noted efforts to remove land mines from regions around the world. The map showed littered land in Africa, Asia and Central America, among other places. The mines, often, were put there by fighters trying to kill one another, but remained a great threat for civilians trying to carry on with their lives.

That reminded me of a scene in "Turtles Can Fly," in which Satellite, an enterprising teen in a Kurdish refugee camp, tries to help a young boy who'd wandered into a field filled with mines.

The child had been used to bumbling around freely, whether strolling dirt pathways or climbing over stone walls. But there on the slope, surrounded by unseen explosives, he learned so early the personal geography of war.

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