Shipped off to Lika as a child during the supposedly golden years of Tito to stay with relatives she barely knew, Novakovich has been revisiting Croatia ever since, researching the story of her family's often harrowing life: in 1941 her aunt was the only survivor of Serbs massacred by Croatian fascists; and her mother saved her grandmother from being buried alive when she was thought to be dead from typhus.
Amidst adversity there is resilience and laughter, too, with plenty of light to balance the shade. Eccentric and entertaining characters abound, showing typically sardonic Balkan humour. And, this being the Balkans, much of daily life revolves around food, which features prominently. Throughout, aspects of Croatian history that relate to Lika are woven into the narrative to give the story some much-needed context. And in recounting her own family's tumultuous history, Novakovich opens up a world that is little known outside the Balkans, telling the stories of people whose experiences weren't widely reported at the time, when the devastation in Croatia was superseded by the Bosnian conflict and media attention moved elsewhere.