Click photo to enlarge
'Country of Red Azaleas,' a novel by Domnica Radulescu.

Domnica Radulescu, who came to the U.S. from Romania in 1983 as a political refugee, has crafted a compelling tale of two friends, one Serbian, one Bosnian, who grew up together in the former Yugoslavia.

Lara and Marija became friends in Belgrade. Throughout their childhood, neither gave much thought to their ethnicities, but in 1992, when the young women were in college and war broke out, they were forced to pick sides. Lara ran away to Washington, D.C., with a handsome American. Marija went home to Sarajevo and dedicated herself to journalism.

From then on, their paths couldn't be more different. As Lara makes a comfortable, middle-class life for herself as an academic, a wife and the mother of a daughter, Marija disappears into the confusing and frightening grip of war. It is decades before the friends meet again.

Radulescu's prose is fluid and languid — even when she's describing the madness of war. Her pacing is perfect as Lara watches her marriage fall apart and searches for her missing friend.

Lara describes seeing Marija again: "I felt shreds and shreds of my heart and memory become loose and fall off me like I was an animal shedding its skin."

The book's only flaw is the ending, which feels entirely too neat for such a big, messy story.