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Humor, Innocence Still Live in Sarajevo

March 03, 1994|PAUL D. COLFORD

The violent news footage from Sarajevo somehow masks the resilience of those who have not been cut down by sniper fire and Serb artillery. How exactly does life go on amid chronic carnage and fear?

A group of Sarajevo writers and a teen-age girl are answering the question with books about the fray.

"Sarajevo: Survival Guide" mimics the format and straightforward style of Michelin's tall, palm-sized Baedekers while serving as a grimly humorous archive of life in wartime.

It was written in Sarajevo by FAMA, a group of artists and intellectuals. As their introduction states, the guidebook intends to take visitors through the city and teach them how to survive "without transportation, hotels, taxis, telephones, food, shops, heating, water, information, electricity."

Some excerpts:

"Water: The washing machine is a household appliance from some long-gone times. It has no function. The women of Sarajevo are again first-class laundresses. The only thing lacking is a battledore, lye soap and a clean river to wash what they have."

"Eating: Each person in Sarajevo is very close to an ideal macrobiotician, a real role model for the health-conscious, diet-troubled West . . . People are healthy, in spite of everything, for no one eats animal fat anymore, nor meat, nor cheese--meals are made without eggs, without milk, onions, meat, vegetables. We eat a precious mix of wild imagination."

"Gifts: A bottle of clean water, a candle, a bar of soap, shampoo, some garlic or an onion. Passionate love is expressed here by a handful of wood, a bucket of coal, a complete edition of books which lack humor and poetry. Could you spare some Vladimir Illyich Lenin? Last winter has proven that his books burn well."

On March 15, Workman Publishing Co. will distribute 25,000 copies of "Sarajevo: Survival Guide," which are being printed in Croatia. The publisher will price the guide at $10 and donate all profits to FAMA and its work.

Out with far more publicity is "Zlata's Diary" (Viking), 13-year-old Zlata Filipovic's newly published chronicle of two years in the Sarajevo war zone. She will arrive in the United States on Sunday, where her itinerary will include visits to five cities and a string of media interviews.

"Zlata's Diary" first appeared in a Croat edition published by UNICEF and has become a bestseller in France, where Zlata and her parents were able to resettle late last year. A spirited auction among more than a dozen publishers for the American rights ended with Viking's winning offer of $540,000. Film rights went for a reported $1 million.

Emotions stirred by an innocent in harm's way, as well as Zlata's exhaustive efforts on behalf of her book, should propel sales of the 200,000 copies Viking has printed. Early reviews in Publishers Weekly and the Los Angeles Times have been strong.

However, her work also received a dismissive knock in the New York Times this week ("An inauthentic, posturing quality prevails") that has prompted some publishing observers to suspect other book critics may feel the same way and ignore the diary, leaving it to the news pages rather than belittle a child.

Chilling Talk From FBI Vet: Hire a driver and get a gun.

This is the "bare minimum" advice to business executives and prominent people "of high risk" given by James Fox, the former head of the FBI's New York office. In his first effort as security columnist for Forbes FYI, a quarterly supplement sent to Forbes' 700,000-plus subscribers, the man who became a recognizable TV face after last year's World Trade Center bombing warns corporate types that they, too, might be kidnaped.

"If you are wealthy, or even look as if you have money, you are a potential victim," he says in the March 14 issue. Among Fox's tips: Don't use company titles when making hotel reservations . . . Vary jogging and commuting routes . . . Don't flaunt wealth.

Fox, who was in the FBI for 31 years, is known for tough talk. He recently retired after being suspended for making what were considered inappropriate public comments about the World Trade Center case.

Ink is published Thursdays. Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday.

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