Ivana Bodrozic Simic was nine in the summer of 1991 when she and her older brother were sent from her home town Vukovar, a town at the river Danube on the Croatian-Serbian border, to relatives at the Croatian coast. War was looming and her parents felt that the children would be safer there. Her mother joined them soon afterwards. Her father stayed in Vukovar.
"My father didn't say: 'I'm going to give something for Croatia now.' He lived his regular life and then some people appeared. I remember that some Chetniks [nationalist Serb paramilitaries] with beards began walking around the city. Those were frightening scenes. They came suddenly and said: 'Get out of here, we will liberate Vukovar!' I mean, liberate it from whom? You live there all your life and then someone tries to convince you that he will liberate that city from you. And then the most natural and normal reaction was for you to say: 'Well, no! I don't want to get out of here. I have made my life here.' So, it was not so much about Croatia. My father did not go somewhere, some 200, 300 kilometers away to defend an ideal. He just stayed home because to him, it was unnatural to leave."
The city was besieged by Serb forces on 25 August and fell after 87 days on 18 November 1991, reduced to a dystopian landscape of ruins. Around this date Ivana's father called for the last time to comfort the family, saying that he was ok. Then he disappeared, never to be found again.
In 1996, close to 200 bodies were exhumed from a mass grave close to the town, but Ivana's father was not among them. Officially, he is still considered missing.
In 2010, at the age of 28, Ivana wrote "Hotel Zagorje", a book about the childhood and adolescence of a displaced person. It is in large parts a story of her own life. Hotel Zagorje, a former communist retreat, was where Ivana lived for years with her mother and her brother. She describes the desperate efforts to get news about her father, the struggle to find better accommodation and the challenges of life as a displaced person. Ivana explains that she added some fictional moments but that the novel is basically autobiographical:
"I lived in Vukovar. I was nine when it all started and I wasn't even sure what I am in terms of nationality. In our family, that question was never raised. My parents had Serb and Bosniak, Muslim friends. And then something happens