Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War

Overview

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Peter Maass went to the Balkans as a reporter at the height of the nightmarish war there, but this book is not traditional war reportage. Maass examines how an ordinary Serb could wake up one morning and shoot his neighbor, once a friend--then rape that neighbor's wife. He conveys the desperation that makes a Muslim beg the United States to bomb his own city in order to end the misery. And Maass does not falter at the spectacle of U.N. ...

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Overview

Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Peter Maass went to the Balkans as a reporter at the height of the nightmarish war there, but this book is not traditional war reportage. Maass examines how an ordinary Serb could wake up one morning and shoot his neighbor, once a friend--then rape that neighbor's wife. He conveys the desperation that makes a Muslim beg the United States to bomb his own city in order to end the misery. And Maass does not falter at the spectacle of U.N. soldiers shining searchlights on fleeing refugees--who are promptly gunned down by snipers waiting in the darkness. Love Thy Neighbor gives us an unflinching vision of a late-20th-century hell that is also a scathing inquiry into the worst extremes of human nature. Like Michael Herr's Dispatches (also available in Vintage paperback), it is an utterly gripping book that will move and instruct readers for years to come.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One of the definitive accounts of Bosnia's fin de siècle descent into madness"
        —The Cleveland Plain Dealer).

"Moving and morally compelling.... [A] strikingly personal and passionate account of the war by...a reporter who got closer to the action and the suffering than any diplomat, policy maker or academic.... Maass lets his eye for the arresting detail and his conscience be his guides. The result is a gripping journey through a hellish war, with pit stops to meet some of the victims and their executioners. It is a hair-raising, stomach-churning and, ultimately, consciousness-raising ride, and one that will force readers to examine their own values and those of the Western powers who appeased aggressors while a quarter of a million people died horrible deaths.... Throughout the book, Maass examines two themes: first how can human beings be so monstrous to one another or stand by when others are brutalized, and second, how could Western powers, including the United States, fail to stop aggression and appease the worst war criminals in Europe."
        —The Boston Globe

"Angry, stinging, profanely eloquent and often painful.... What Mr. Maass gives us in short is a view of ethnic cleansing in all of its cruelty, its absurd detail, its self-justification, its dehumanization of the other. Love Thy Neighbor will take its place among the classics of an unfortunate genre: the portrayal of humankind at its worst."
        —The New York Times

"Maass' portrait of human nature at its worst is powerfully emotional.... Maass insistently and with compelling reasons recasts the [Serb and Muslim] choices as ones any one of us might make, given the proper demagogue.... Such ominous reflections elevate this book beyond the notes of a seasoned reporter to the plane of a more universal examination of the narrow self-interest that can encourage, or ignore, the savagery of which we are capable. Maass' graphic demonstration of this reality is rendered all the more stark in light of his portrayal of the generosity and desire for meaning in the face of brutality's victims."
—John C. Hawley, Santa Clara University, The San Francisco Chronicle

Chris William Erdman
...[H]ad I not read [Love Thy Neighbor], conversations like this would have kept me in the dark, morally and spiritually inattentive to the power of propaganda and self-delusion. —Books & Culture: A Christian Review
Chris William Erdman
...[H]ad I not read [Love Thy Neighbor], conversations like this would have kept me in the dark, morally and spiritually inattentive to the power of propaganda and self-delusion. -- Books & Culture: A Christian Review
Kirkus Reviews
A journalist's remarkably penetrating and unapologetically opinionated account of the war in Bosnia and how it changed the way he perceives himself and humankind. Enough time has elapsed for a steady stream of journalistic accounts of fighting in the former Yugoslavia to have appeared. The Washington Post's Maass offers an unusual and striking addition to this group. More than just a recounting of the Bosnian horrors that are by now familiar—the wretched scenes from concentration camps, the misery in hospitals, the terror of sniper fire, slow starvation, war profiteering—Maass's work is profoundly introspective and honest. While the reader senses these qualities throughout the book, it is only in the final pages that the author spells out the way the war has changed him. Describing his vague sense of Jewishness (his family celebrated Christmas and sent him to an Episcopal school) and his complacency about his religious identity, Maass eloquently captures the personal, national, and universal implications of this brutal civil war: "I am now more aware of what being a Jew can mean. I learned this from the Muslims of Bosnia...Muslims versus Christians, Jews versus non-Jews, whites versus blacks, poor versus rich—there are so many seams along which a society can be torn apart by the manipulators." Maass has no doubts about the identity of the "manipulators" (Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic) and the "appeasers" (the United Nations and its representative Lord Owen, and Western leaders). His attacks on them are scathing and deeply bitter. Maass's heroes are the American diplomats who resigned over the government's inaction and hypocrisy, his fellowjournalists, and the citizens and representatives of Bosnia. Unfortunately, he leaves Croatia and its dubious president, Franjo Tudjman, out of the picture. By doing so, Maass oversimplifies the situation, reducing it to a Serb-Muslim conflict and ignoring Croatian warmongering. A provocative meditation on appeasement and isolation in the face of evil.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679763895
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/28/1997
  • Series: Vintage Series
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 170,515
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Maass
Peter Maass

Peter Maass is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine and has reported from the Middle East, Asia, South America and Africa. He has written as well for The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post and Slate. Maass is the author of Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, which chronicled the Bosnian war and won prizes from the Overseas Press Club and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in New York City.

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2008

    A must read!

    This book was absolutely excellent. I loved the way Maass got into the philosophical and psychological aspects of war. The book was very difficult to find, though. I hardly read nonfiction, but this was amazing. I feel Maass truly captured to prime human emotions of humans in troubled times. READ IT

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2007

    Who cares about the author, tell me about Bosnia!

    This is more writing in the vein of 'Chasing the Sea' by Tom Bissel, in which someone uses the pretext of discussing a serious matter to drone on endlessly about themselves. In 'Love Thy Neighbor' the author will use a half-sentence remark made by a concentration-camp inmate as an excuse to write a page or two about Christmas at home with his mother! Such digression is not atypical, but is most of the text. I was initially excited to find this book at the library, as it was one I had never read. After reading the first 100+ pages, I'm angry that the library used my tax dollars to buy this swill. I mean, a little personal insight is acceptable, but the book was supposed to be about Bosnia, not some Anglophile reporter from Los Angeles.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2003

    War is hell!

    Great book. I loved it. Mr. Maass has been to hell and back, this book is for anyone who wants to know what war is really like. War is ugly and should never be glorified.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2003

    Exceptional

    Mr. Maass writes an excellent book. FULL STOP. He doocuments his time in the insane asylum that we called Bosnia in the early 90's. His writing is exceptional and the stories he tells are heartbreaking. Great books are either average writers who witness extrodinary events or extrodinary writers who witness average events. Maass is an extrodinary writer in an extrodinary situation. This is the best book I have ever read of the Bosnian fiasco. As a former UN Peacekeeper it brought back old shivers and memories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2001

    Excellent

    I was a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia just after Maass left, very few books managed to capture the overall senselessness of the war coupled with the feeling of helplessness that came over me. Maass is able to paint an accurate portrait of what happened overall and to people that would have otherwise gone un-noticed. A book I wish I wrote.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2000

    Best book about the war in Bosnia

    I never read a better, more honest and sad book about Bosnia. Since 8 years I help the people in need in the areas Peter M. discribed and EVERY word is more than true. I´m only sad that we never met in the times he was in Banja Luka, Sarajevo, Prijedor.... How good it would have been to talk with somebody who talks the same and only language - everybody on this world undersands - the heart - language!!! Doraja Eberle Salzbuirg - Austria Organisation'Farmers help Farmers' I gave the book to all my team of helpers for Christmas - 52 books. They have to read it, because they will understand better....

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2000

    Tearfully Eye-Opening!

    Love Thy Neighbor A story of War is a very compelling book. I learned so much about politics and the lack of political concern for people. Peter Maass did a wonderful job of displaying heartache and hope.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2000

    Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War

    Peter Maass¿ Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, like the conflict it details, is infinitely complex, ripe with significance, and capable of teaching us a great deal about the peculiarities of the human condition. But also, like the war, the book forces the reader into a state of intense self-reflection, and gives rise to a number of hard to answer questions, many of which most people would probably rather not even consider. <p> Something else that the reader may find hard to answer, is what the book is actually about. On the surface lies an account of the conflict between the Serbs and Muslims in the former Yugoslavia, which Maass has pieced together through tireless research, endless travel under the most difficult of circumstances, countless interviews, and a fierce devotion to his subject. Indeed it is this attention to the detail of the war, enabled chiefly by Maass¿ uncanny ability to record and observe virtually every thing he witnessed during his time in the war-torn area, that makes most of Love Thy Neighbor, such a compelling read, and a veritable page-turner. These are, admittedly, not the words one might normally associate with an account of such an unpopular war which virtually no one out side of the region knows anything about, especially one whose pages are riddled with bullet holes, and strewn with the lifeless bodies of the slaughtered innocent. Or, perhaps, as Maass suggests, these are the very things which makes us read on. He refers to this compulsion as a desire for 'war porn,' and spends significant time examining the extent to which we, as humans, are titillated by the devastation and misery brought about by war, so long as it is kept at arm¿s length. <p> If Maass had merely listed the atrocities which he suggests were committed by the Serbian aggressors in their efforts to 'cleanse' the country of Muslims, it would surely be enough to sicken, dishearten, or disgust anyone. Instead, he intensifies the reader¿s connection to the events of the war in a highly effective personal style. By beginning each chapter with a narrative account of someone he has come to know during his time in Yugoslavia, or of those he has heard about through close friends, who have all suffered greatly, he forces the reader to experience the pain on a level which most are probably not familiar with. Graphic accounts of sickly victims, like an 18 year old boy he encounters in a prison camp--'His skin was stretched like a transparent scarf over his ribs and shoulder bones'--will not soon be forgotten. It is a story like this, and the many others, much worse, that have a far more chilling effect than mere statistics. What does it mean to say a thousand were killed? This is a mere number. But Maass refuses to let any death go unavenged, as if each one were a personal assault on himself, and on all of humanity. <p> Thus Maass reveals his intense emotional attachment to the people he is covering. While at first he tries to remain disaffected as the consummate journalist, one of the more fascinating aspects of the book is that the reader gets to witness Maass slowly breaking down himself. While the country and its people are torn apart, so too is Peter Maass, not the writer, but the human being. Thus a strong bond is formed between author and reader, as Maass¿ stunning language, and fierce diatribes aimed at those responsible for the war, come to fruition. <p> Maass is no hero though, and he knows it. He is just as frightened as any one else would be in the many near death experiences he has gone through, and like any one else, he begins to question why any of this has happened in the first place. These questions make up the majority of the second half of the book, as he begins to point fingers and implicate the guilty. These range from Slobodan Milosevic, John Major, Fracois Miterand, Bill Clinton, and the entire U.N. Because these leaders either failed to intervene, or brought about much of the s

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