Reviewed by Samantha Hui
Complex, multidimensional, important.
Choices often fall moot when they are informed by chance.
Nermina’s Chance is a harrowing look at how quickly freedom can be taken away. Telling the story of a survivor who has escaped war, this novel explores a plethora of themes including choice, forgiveness, and guilt.
Though the Bosnian War is what sets this story in motion, it is not its primary storyline; it’s first about Nermina reconciling with the choices that she was forced to make as well as the ones she made on her own.
The Bosnian War is in full motion in 1992. Nermina’s brother Mirsad is dead after his place of work was bombed; Nermina’s mother has been beaten to death by Serbian soldiers; and Nermina herself has been brutalized and ravaged by soldiers. Despite her suffering, Nermina still wants to stay here with her father.
But her father has different plans for her, saying, “You’re not the one who chooses,” in order to protect Nermina. In following his detailed plan for her, Nermina finds refuge in America and determines herself to have an American child.
“Above all, she aches for the childhood they’d once shared she knows now with certainty that those children are gone.”
Greenberg’s careful writing details how choices are contingent upon the circumstances we find ourselves in. And Nermina’s choices are always dictated by chance. For instance, when Nermina cannot have a child through artificial insemination due to her lack of money, she makes the choice to have her child with a relative stranger, Carl.
As Nermina’s daughter (Atika) grows older and shows resentment toward Nermina for not giving her a father, Nermina must make a difficult choice: either to reveal that Carl is her father or to continue the lie that Nermina conceived of Atika through artificial insemination.
“Sometimes a lie can be much kinder than the truth.”
Greenberg has taken a fresh and nuanced approach to discussing chance and choice. Throughout the novel, Nermina encounters moments where she must choose between two things, but they are hardly black and white. There are infinite reasons for why Nermina has gotten to the point she has, and all those reasons and experiences inform the decision she is about to make.
Though she wanted to give Atika the life she was no longer allowed to continue living, Nermina instead stifles Atika and often places too much parental responsibility on her. In the same way Nermina’s father did not allow Nermina to make the choice to stay in Bosnia, Nermina takes away Atika’s choice of knowing her father. The book does not ascribe a morality to this situation, but instead presents Nermina as someone who is doing what she can with the choices she is given.
“It would be much easier to see the issues in black and white, as these men did.”
This book flows seamlessly from chapter to chapter, never wasting a word. Its characters are well-rounded and complex, never suggesting that they are either hero or villain but rather people who are presented with difficult choices.
Nermina’s Chance is heartfelt, humanizing, and unconventional. Though the book is pretty hefty, it is a good one to read again and again.
Publisher: Atmosphere Press
Genre: Literary / Historical/ War
Print Length: 426 pages
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