Blood On My Hands – A Surgeon At War
By Craig Jurisevic
Wild Dingo Press – £20.15
As a Humanitarian Aid Worker, I travelled extensively throughout the former Yugoslavia during the nineties, delivering aid and medical supplies to numerous hospitals, orphanages and transit-camps. I also shot a great deal of footage for a documentary I was making at the time called Blood On The Tracks. As such, I can wholeheartedly relate to so much of what Australian author, Craig Jurisevic, has written in this gut-wrenchingly candid, compassionate and nigh Chekhovian account of the war in Kosovo – which took place during the last year of the last century.
Indeed, it’s still really hard to believe that in 1999, a tiny piss, poor country, roughly the size of Yorkshire or Connecticut (with approximately a million inhabitants), was steeped in a disgusting and utterly disgraceful war, that really ought not to have taken place. Whilst the likes of the ghastly Spice girls were still espousing vacuous girl power, and Prince bequeathed all and sundry to party like no other year before nor since, small children were being regularly garrotted to death by grown men, a mere sixty minutes flying time from London and Paris.
Not so much hard to be believe, as shameful to believe – but nevertheless true.
Old men were being hacked to death in hospital beds while pregnant women were being raped and meticulously slaughtered (in their thousands) by Serb Paramilitary Units – all in the name of nationalism. That onerous, cancerous, fucking despicable ideology, which always, always, appeals to the bored, the stupid, the ignorant and the rabidly myopic, not to mention predominantly male antithesis of a vexed and violent society.
But where so many young men, high on smack, bravado and profanity, will naturally evolve into rebels without a cause; said Serbian young men evolved into nothing other than rebels without a conscience. Hence, the slaughter – many macabre examples of which are crucially, yet horrifically portrayed throughout Blood On My Hands – A Surgeon At War.
An agonisingly astute and important book, it truly tells it as it (unfortunately) truly was: ‘’The woman, cradling a child in her arms, a boy of four or five, is sitting on the floor at the far end of the room with her back propped against the wall. Between where she sits and where I stand lies the body of a man, her husband I would think, his head resting in a pool of darkening blood. I step around the body and approach the woman, whose eyes are fixed on me. I don’t think she knows whether I have come to help or to do more harm, but she is imploring me anyway. What she is asking me I don’t know. The child in her lap is dead. He has been garrotted. The woman herself has been shot in both legs and is partially disembowelled. She is sitting in her own blood. The injuries to her legs are designed to prevent her moving. The wound to her lower abdomen is meant to cause enough pain to make her cry out without killing her too quickly. The scene confronts me more than any I have witnessed before. It cuts right through to my core, my mind racing to comprehend the sheer horror, the depravity.’’
The word ‘depravity’ here is used both perfectly and poignantly. It accurately describes so much of the Serb behaviour I personally heard, read and stumbled upon during my time in the Balkans. Although thankfully, I came nowhere near as close to quite as much actual killing, as that involved within these 323 pages.
That Craig Jurisevic has been able to get on with the rest of his life back in Adelaide, triggers, in me at least, a menagerie of kaleidoscopic concern and wrought emotions. Apart from brave, commendable, unbelievable and an array of other dense depictions, the one over-riding factor at play throughout Blood On My Hands, is, at the end of the day (and book) quintessentially that of love.
Amid all the horror, sorrow, pain and anguish, is an undercurrent of such profound and delicate tenderness, that no matter how dark or depraved the surgeon’s tenure in Kosovo became, his spirit remained utterly intact by way of unflinching love for his wife and child: ‘’Isn’t love, once you find it – and it’s so hard to find – isn’t love the force you should align yourself with, at all costs?’’
Yes it absolutely is.
Although much of Serbia wasn’t really listening, let alone adhering, to any form of love at the time. That said, such open and undeniable self-introspection in relation to what honestly matters, is, what invariably accounts for this outstanding book being of such outstanding validity.