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With the German occupation and pacification of Belgrade in 1941, an uneasy sense of normalcy replaced the gunfire and the bombings. After weeks of home confinement, Yana Primuz, a sixteen-year-old Serbian girl, defies her mother’s orders and slips out of the house to meet her friends, and to flirt with the boys. But a sudden Nazi roundup ensnares her. Shipped in a cattle car to a German work camp, Yana sees in the women’s faces around her a reflection of her own terror. But wiping her tears, she vows to escape, to survive, to never give in.


It is Yana Primuz herself, known to be “so good with words,” who tells us of her forced removal as a teenager during WWII from Belgrade in Yugoslavia to a labor camp, Zella-Mehlis (historical, not a fiction), just south of Belsen in Germany. For years, she suffers from rape, from cold and hunger, is forced to kill, experiences love, observes a range of perpetrators and fellow victims who have us reeling as we read on toward a riveting ending. S. Sue McMillan and Paul M. Levitt, from this book’s opening sentences through this young woman’s liberation by the American army & beyond, create a Yana of authoritative voice — we are assured, by way of indisputable sensory detail, that she was there and now records the truth. This memoir-novel will frighten, thrill, enlighten, and serve as memorial for its readers of all ages.

—William Heyen
National Book Award Finalist, author of
The Candle: Poems of Our Twentieth Century Holocausts

Yana is a riveting, bleak look at one of history’s great atrocities. Its unsparing personal narrative and unflinching depiction of the horrors of war will place it among the classics of its genre.

—Jasper DeWitt
author of The Patient

No one wants to be in the middle of a state of entropy that war can create, unable to predict what’s to come and having things gradually decline into disorder. Yet, these authors skillfully drag us in. This novel is an incredible coming-of-age story of a young Serbian woman, Yana, who is abducted from Belgrade, after the German occupation in WWII to be used as slave labor, making guns at a German factory, who man-ages to survive—despite being abused, raped, starved—and to fall in love, thus escaping the hell she had lived for four, long years.

—Biljana D. Obradović
co-editor and translator of Cat Painters: Anthology of Contemporary Serbian Poetry, and author of Incognito