After the Fall: Srebrenica Survivors in St. Louis
Text and interviews by Patrick McCarthy
Photographs by Tom Maday
Foreword by David Rohde
Translation by Lejla Susic
Missouri Historical Society Press (2000, 156 pages)
Simply put, this is an important book for St. Louis. One that, in a perfect world, would be required reading for anyone calling the Southside home; and for the many students in the City's public school system, which has been solidly affected by the influx of Bosnian children.
Chronicling the lives of the not-so-small Oric family, the book takes a unique look at how this extended group transported their minds and hearts from their decimated Bosnian hometown to the familiar four-family flats and apartment complexes of South St. Louis.
Initially, the book introduces the family and its key missing element, Haso Oric, he among the thousands-strong "missing" of Srebrenica. But it quickly moves back to the early-to-mid-90s, sketching out both the major players in the tragedy of that city, and the little details that marked the lives of those refugees. It truly captures a sense of mundane, as well as the more overtly-tragic circumstances. After all, between the moments of high drama lie many more days, passing in a combination of uneasy calm and "what-comes-next?" indecision. New York Times reporter David Rohde adds a sense of that scene in his brief, effective forward.
Project head Patrick McCarthy, too, adds a number of anecdotes and contextual bits to help readers navigate what's a complex story for Americans. (That's particularly true in St. Louis. Despite the numbers involved, local television stations haven't come across the story, it seems.) Translated ably by Lejla Susic, McCarthy is at ease in the living rooms of the Oric clan, parsing out stories over strong cups of coffee. His comfort level is tangible.
Though laced with tragedy, the text seldom feels maudlin; never does McCarthy strum at the easy emotional chord. Instead, he lets the family tell tales at length, noting their sometimes-ambivalence about their new surroundings, as well as their strong ties to the old.
Maday's photos are a constant presence in this story, too. The Chicago-based photographer does a remarkable job of finding the family at work and play, in neighborhoods that'll feel considerably familiar to many of us, tucked away behind Kingshighway, Hampton and Gravois. An incredibly solid documentary shooter, Maday's work adds powerful resonance to the text. Fantastic stuff, really.
The creators of this project (and those who helped make it possible) should feel quite proud of their accomplishment. Not only did they treat a single family's journey with an appropriately-sensitive touch, they helped define a community for many of us living just down the block.
In addition to the book, a year-long exhibition, "We Will Survive," is currently on display at the Missouri Historical Society. Taking up a small room in the western end of the Jefferson Memorial, the collection veers towards the simple: small flags and other items symbolic of Bosnia-Herzegovina; blown-up photos of the countryside there; and a number of one-line, declarative statements printed upon the walls.
Allusions to the book are made, though there's enough overlap to recommend taking in the exhibit whether or not you've found the book. (Then again, if we're making qualitative judgments, get the book sooner than later; take in the show if you happen to be in the vicinity of Forest Park.)
At the opening of "We Will Survive" on November 25, English was indeed a second language, as dozens of folks spread through the growing History Museum complex. Kids with accordions played folk songs with gusto, as grinning parents snapped pictures.
The idea of community was well-captured, on a brisk Saturday afternoon: these relative newcomers to St. Louis strolling through the nearby 1904 World's Fair displays, on the way to gaze at their own history. Somehow, it was all quite apt.