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Sunday, March 26, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Vivid portrait of carnage in `My War'

Special to The Seattle Times

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"My War Gone By, I Miss It So"

by Anthony Loyd

Atlantic Monthly Press, $25

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In the first book of "Maus: A Survivor's Tale," the cartoon book by Art Spiegelman, Spiegelman's father, Vladek, suffers through Nazi persecution in Germany and Poland; he goes to war and then prison camp. He survives, just barely, in the ghettoes of Nazi-occupied Poland, where death comes suddenly or systematically, but always horribly. At the end of the book, he and his wife are captured, separated and sent to Auschwitz.

The title of the next book, "And Here My Troubles Began," is tinged with irony and yet true, for Auschwitz was so horrible as to make the horrors that came before it seem somehow untroubling.

I thought of this second "Maus" title while reading the memoir "My War Gone By, I Miss It So" by Anthony Loyd, a British war correspondent. Loyd arrived in Sarajevo in Spring 1993 without any press credentials at all. For a while, he took photographs of the fighting among the Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims, even sold a few, but never considered himself a good photographer. Eventually, he became a freelance writer, then regular reporter, for a British broadsheet. What he witnesses in Sarajevo and central Bosnia is enough to turn the most hardened stomach.

In Sarajevo, the horrors are specific, such as an old couple blasted away by an anti-aircraft gun: "The old man - he must have been over seventy - was moaning and trying to reach out to his wife who made a gurgling sound, like water going down a plughole," Loyd writes.

In central Bosnia, the horrors come so fast and furious they tend to blend together: Vast dislocations of civilians, haggard correspondents rushing to get to the action without getting killed, the "ethnic cleansing" of the Croats and Serbs.

One incident stands out: a young woman raped by a Croat soldier before her bedridden father, who had recently suffered a stroke and could not walk, talk or feed himself. "Yet he could see and hear, and his mind was clear," Loyd tells us, then adds, "He was dead the next morning." His daughter's rape is one of the last images he takes from this world.

Yet, despite such horrors, when Loyd goes to Chechnya in 1995 to witness the Chechens' rebellion against the Russians, "In terms of the scale of violence, fear and horror, it left anything in my experience so far behind as to make it almost insignificant." And here his troubles begin.

Loyd has a matter-of-fact writing style that augments rather than softens the carnage he describes. At the same time he can go ballistic on certain subjects: the incompetent impotence of the U.N., for example, or the apathy of the Western public.

He believes in culpability (". . . generally the Croats in central Bosnia, like the Serbs before them, were drinking more readily than the Muslims from the poisoned chalice of nationalism") but maintains no illusions of native innocence ("I believe any man, given the right pressures, could kill an innocent in cold blood"). He describes both wars from a ground-level view, making them more understandable while maintaining their chaotic feel: a difficult, yet appreciated balancing act. He humanizes how inhuman war can be.

He also describes his own increasing heroin addiction, which, while interesting, doesn't hold the attention of his war reportage.

Could the book have been more tightly constructed? Yes. But so what? Loyd has gone to hell and back and is telling us what he's seen in sometimes beautiful, always pungent prose. Its faults are few. "My War Gone By, I Miss It So" deserves awards, and mass readership.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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