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Sarajevo Walls of Fate

Sarajevo Walls of Fate

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Sarajevo Walls of Fate

254 página
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Lançado em:
Sep 4, 2011


In this fast-paced romance, elements of mystery and ghostly encounters combine as young journalist Jasna becomes a reluctant witness to the processes of history in the 1990s.

Only a great love can bring her from the despair of war to a land of plenty, from Sarajevo to Singapore and back to her home town via Granada, Rome and New York.

Hers is an exciting journey, brimming with authentic observations as she and those around her search their souls for answers to the important questions of our time.

Is there hope for the ruined facades of Sarajevo, and the city’s shattered dreams of peaceful cohabitation?

Is there a place for sincerity and chivalry in such a turbulent time?

Lançado em:
Sep 4, 2011

Sobre o autor

Marija Fekete-Sullivan was born n 1965 in Sarajevo. She has written 50 stories for children, and adapted a further 20 stories for the book Zlatne bosanske bajke (Golden Bosnian Fairy Tales). She writes principally for children, but also for adults.Her first book, The Mermaid's Dream, was published in Singapore. The British poet Adrian Mitchell said of it, “The stories which make up The Mermaid's Dream are in the tradition of the great Hans Christian Andersen. They are told - by Marija Fekete Sullivan - with gentle humour and rare imagination, but most of all, with love - they are love stories for children and for all adults who understand children.'Marija wrote the Bosnian and English text of the bilingual book Zaljubljeni vuk/The Wolf in Love, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first interactive digital picture book and video game. The book offers educational audiovisual content for children, especially children with development difficulties.Within her digital publishing project, Style Writes Now, Marija has independently published more than 100 stories by more than 50 authors from Bosnia and Herzegovina, mainly in English translation.Marija has been recognised as a distinguished independent artist in her native city of Sarajevo. She is the recipient of multiple awards and was nominated for the 2021 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.

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Sarajevo Walls of Fate - Marija Fekete Sullivan

Sarajevo Walls of Fate

Copyright Marija F. Sullivan

Published by Style Writes Now, Smashwords, 2011

English text edited by Juliet Walker

Cover design and layout by MIK

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

This edition by Style Writes Now, book project.

To K and K as always

Sarajevo Walls of Fate

Chapter 1


March 2010

A woman in a long, grey dress stopped me as I strolled beside the River Miljacka in the centre of Sarajevo. There was a hole the size of a clenched fist in her chest.

The afternoon sun gave an orange tint to the hundred-year-old building where the woman with half-opened eyes was depicted on its facade. The branches of a tree provided shade from the sun’s rays, which were reflected on her forehead, on her long hair and on the hole in her chest.

That frightful hollowness, in the place on the bosom normally reserved for a pendant, prevented me from noticing at first that this pretty, voluptuous figure of a lady was holding a spear. The spear didn’t look threatening in the least. Moreover, it seemed to be keeping her upright.

The door of the three-storey house was slightly open. Waiting, I hesitated for a while, and then entered. The solid, sturdy, wide stairs with elegant wooden banisters, built in the old Austrian style, rose to the top floor, which was where I wanted to go. Closer to the agony of the mysterious woman.

What’s going on in there? What kind of people live in this place with a wounded creature on their wall?

‘No, no one lives in the attic,’ said a dark-haired, middle-aged man with soft features. He was the only tenant of the huge house, and he lived on the first floor.

‘And there?’ I glanced up the flight of stairs, towards the door in which some of the glass had been broken. There were unused pots for plants, filled with some dusty old clothes, and a broom stood near the doormat. The man shook his head.

‘There’s another empty apartment next to mine,’ he said.

I learned that he had lived in that house since he was a toddler, which was almost half a century. Now I felt comfortable enough to introduce myself.

‘Jasna,’ I said, holding out my hand.

‘Mensud,’ he replied, and shook my hand briefly. I told him I wrote books, and that I had been astonished by the lady with the hole in her chest. Oh, and that depiction of the man in armour and a helmet! Obviously a knight. The one on the other side of the window, holding a shield.

‘Surely, you noticed that the knight also has a hole below his shoulder. Maybe in his heart? Small, but who knows how deep the hole is,’ I mused.

Mensud nodded as though everything made sense to him. I was a tad disappointed that he was not looking surprised. People give much better answers if they are not prepared in advance. My visit was, apparently, expected.

Well, no wonder. Two days earlier, when I first spotted the beauty on the wall, I asked a friendly looking policeman about the facade.

‘Wow!’ he exclaimed with a smile, ‘I’ve been walking up and down this street for a couple of years and I never noticed it till now.’ I took his advice to simply ask the tenants.


My first editor used to say, ‘Once you learn how to ask your questions, and pitch your voice the right way, you can get any answers you need’. Consequently, my sometimes-difficult questions came across like a grand favour to the interviewee, rather than an investigation whose answers I was greatly interested in. On many an occasion, this approach proved to be rewarding. No one noticed how shy I really was, but I often repeated to myself like a mantra, ‘simply ask, simply ask...’.

‘Why did you kill them?’ I asked an incarcerated, frail-looking Serb prisoner-of-war.

‘Can I have a cigarette?’ the young man asked back, endless pleading in his eyes.


This man now standing at the door of his apartment in the old Sarajevo house was waiting, with patient benevolence, for the end of my curiosity.

‘Why has this exquisite facade not been repaired fifteen years after the war? How come the shrapnel only landed on those particular points?’ I enquired.

Mensud shrugged, and told me what he knew. In one bombardment a whole family had been killed in a large house across the river. Only the grandfather survived; he had been in the bathroom at the time. But the madness of shrapnel spread everywhere and some of the deadly shards bounced off the sides of the river bank. It was the ricochet that pierced the bosom of the lady and her knight.

‘You mean you stayed in this house during the whole four years of the war?’ Unintentionally, I raised the tone of my voice. It seemed to me unbelievable that someone would persist in staying in such a house, completely exposed to the shelling from the surrounding hills.

Mensud nodded, with a weak smile. ‘Yeah. My family and I lived in these several square metres, and never dared enter the rooms overlooking the river.’

He glanced over his shoulder, indicating a long, narrow corridor in his elegant high-ceilinged apartment. There was a modest, threadbare Bosnian carpet on the floor where he was standing.

I learned from Mensud that the building was erected in 1918, and his house had changed hands 17 times. Some of its owners had been bakers, some exiled Jews, and yet others businessmen. The present owners went abroad and no one knew if they would ever come back. The story of the mysterious lady and her knight was only known to the original residents, and all trace of them had been lost, Mensud concluded.

I hesitated at his threshold. I was hoping that he would invite me in for a cup of coffee and a chat, at least for the sake of traditional Bosnian hospitality. He seemed reluctant, so I decided to call it a day.


All trace of the first owners had been lost, he was confident. Yet I had a tingling sensation in the back of my head that there must be a trace left somewhere.

Back at home I carefully examined the photos I had taken of the facade. The hole in the lady’s chest looked pretty damn horrifying, even in the photograph. I noticed for the first time that the knight was holding a shield depicting a bird. ‘Yes, now we’re talking, the clue is becoming apparent,’ I thought. ‘But...Is this an eagle? A vulture? A raven?’ The image was not quite clear. And the dilapidated condition of the walls didn’t help.

Hmm, one thing was for sure, the knight-like man of the house was of noble origin. For only noblemen had family coats of arms, and could be depicted as knights. That much I knew. Once I figured out the type of bird on his shield I would get closer to the owner’s family origin, and maybe even their family saga, for the sake of my novel.

I had an idea who to ask.


April 1992

Dan was left in a basket just before the war started. The nurse who found him at the entrance to the Sarajevo Maternity Hospital cried inconsolably when her husband refused to apply to adopt the dark-haired baby.

Alarmed at her proposal, he came to Dzana’s office in the hospital and stormed in.

‘Are you out of your mind?!’ he was furious. ‘And what with our three daughters!’

‘You can never have too many children or too much money,’ Dzana recalled an old folk saying.

‘Just look at him.’ She lifted the baby slightly in her arms. ‘Look at his eyes. Dark green, almost brown. They’re a bit like yours. Dejan, I love him.’

She held the baby closer to her chest, and he smiled.

‘And what will you feed him? Especially now. Everyone is talking about war. And when carsija (1) talks about something, it’s already happening or it’s about to happen.’

‘Carsija is nuts. Do you read the newspapers, my dear? Would all these clever people just sit around and let a war happen?’

‘Whatever. I hope you’re right,’ Dejan muttered. ‘In any case, the baby is going to the orphanage.’

‘No!’ she almost yelled.

‘Now, look here’, he glowered, ‘I’ve had enough of birds with broken wings, cats with three legs, beggars knocking at our door all the time. And now this. I won’t have it any more.’

Seeing her husband more agitated than ever, Dzana fell silent. She held the baby to her chest protectively. Her little orphan! The baby started to fidget and Dzana attempted a lullaby. As she carried the baby tenderly around the room, something on his neck shone, and the little one smiled again. She gently took the baby’s necklace out and observed a pendant with a sparkling green stone in it.

She turned it over, and on the other side of the gold pendant the name ‘DAN’ was engraved.

‘His name is Dan,’ she said gently.

‘You see, he’s not just a baby. He’s somebody’s baby," Dejan said, feeling vindicated.


Eldin was a leading Sarajevan and Bosnian authority on heraldry, family crests and ancient insignia. The young professor assured me that the coat of arms on the shield didn’t belong to any particular family in Sarajevo or anywhere in the Balkans. A dark eagle with outstretched wings on a light background was a common symbol of strength and courage in Mediaeval and Roman times, he said.

‘Having said that, we can’t exclude the possibility that the knight and the lady painted on the facade were inspired by traditional Balkan heroic folk poetry. The painting of a Herzegovinian girl by Djordje Krstic comes to mind. It shows a lady in a long dress, a little bit like this one.’ Eldin tapped on the photo in front of him, as though keeping time with some silent music, ‘But somehow I don’t think so,’ he said. ‘The lady on the facade is more ethereal, her face is radiant. Yes, artists from all over the world have gladly used characters from Greek and Roman mythology. Sarajevo is no exception. At the start of the 20th century there was still a vogue for the neo-Romantic Secessionist style. It made use of Classical motifs, sometimes presenting Hercules, for example, as a mediaeval knight.’

‘So you reckon the knight on the facade could be Hercules?’

‘It could just as easily be Achilles, or Odysseus. It could be a knight from German mythology. Hard to know.’

‘How about a knight from Bosnia?’

‘If he were a figure from mediaeval Bosnia, his clothes would be heavier. In the 15th century, for example, each knight wore multiple pieces of armour, which made mobility very difficult. Also, some of the basic rules of heraldry don’t seem to apply to this fresco. The type of shield doesn’t correspond to the type of helmet, and the helmet doesn’t correspond to the knight’s light outfit. In fact, the helmet looks like a ceremonial helmet from the 19th century, and the longish, heart shaped shield would be more at home in the early Middle Ages. Only the spear suits every era.’

Eldin stopped tapping on the photo and straightened up in his chair, like a judge ready to deliver a verdict.

‘So my guess is that the artist did the painting according to his own vision of a knight. The lady...well....I hope you’ll get the photo enlarged. I can’t see clearly. There may be important details on her dress, especially around the hem. Now I can only guess things, as the facade is old and the paint is peeling. But what I find most puzzling is the detailed depiction of the faces.’

‘Oh, now we’re talking!’ I said, delighted to hear what I was hoping for.

Eldin smiled wryly and said, ‘Well, it could be the case that members of the family were presented in an idealised form, dressed as a mediaeval lady and her knight. Maybe you should take new photos, showing all the details?’

Oh, I’ll do that,’ I promised. ‘Still, do you think this could really be the case? That these could be the faces of family members, simply rendered as ancient gods or noblemen?’

‘From what I understand, artists all over the world were sometimes asked to paint wealthy family members in that vein, and the portraits came to be regarded from one generation to the next as sort of family protectors, or even ghosts.’

‘Get away. A family ghost with a hole in the chest! How dead can someone be?’

Eldin looked at me quizzically for a second, and then he chuckled. ‘That’s the question, isn’t it?’ Then a cloud covered his face. ‘Frankly, the lady in the fresco looks to me as though she’s been badly pierced in the chest,’ he said quietly.

‘Oh, you mean by the spear?’

‘Well, she’s holding the spear, isn’t she?’

‘She certainly is.’

‘And she might be leaning on the spear for support?’

‘Ah, we’re on the same page there. But why do you say she was pierced?’

‘That’s just my own impression, not a scientific opinion, so don’t quote me on that,’ Eldin looked at me, a little guiltily.

‘Don’t worry, professor’, I said, ‘I understand. But as a matter of fact I happen to know the cause of that wound’

I shared what I had learned about shrapnel bouncing off the embankment and ruining the harmony of the ancient gods. What I couldn’t share with him, or anyone else for that matter, not yet anyway, was that the lady in the fresco looked strikingly like my seventeen-year-old son. My beloved stepson.

The next step, we agreed, was to find out who the architect of the building was – and who painted the fresco.


What was most intriguing in the appearance of the lady on the facade was the fact that she had not been shot in the heart, like her knight. Instead, the shrapnel had entered the place where Indians believe the chakra to be, the place where the soul resides. The fine looking lady with gentle curls resting on her shoulders appeared to me like someone asking, ‘But my soul? What will become of it?’

I remembered a friend in Singapore who wore a necklace with a large seashell pendant on it. When I asked about the pendant, she told me she had received it while travelling around Thailand, ‘to keep her soul in its place’. As though the soul can decide one day, for no particular reason, to take leave of the body. Maybe it can. I would now understand if a soul, after such a horrific shrapnel wound, decided to take a pretty long walk, far, far from here. Much as I had done.

Singapore had been far enough: further than India, my mother would tell our neighbours when she was describing where I lived from 1993 to 1996. There are no Bosniaks, Croats or Serbs, or not so many of us – she would wink meaningfully at that – in

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