For Vesna Maric, the war begins when the machine gun fire in the distance sounds like a sewing machine. As it comes closer, her family’s anxiety grows, prompting them to send her and her sister to Britain via bus. The Bosnian women who board the bus for the four-day trip are in turmoil: Gordana, a 52-year-old who looks like Xena the Warrior Princess, reveals through tears that she is pregnant and must leave her husband in Bosnia; their only English-language interpreter descends into a nervous breakdown; and the weak English coffee only compounds Maric’s confusion and exhaustion.
They arrive in the vivid green of England’s Lake District, greeted by volunteers who carry naive prejudices about refugee behavior and appearance. Unbeknownst to the altruistic British welcoming party, Maric and her fellow travelers are accustomed to a comfortable, middle-class life, and their new “refugee” status comes as a shock.
Maric’s humor and tenderness carry the reader through her love affair with a local boy and her eventual moves to Exeter and Hull. Interweaved are stories of other refugees — stories of love, escape, and burdens of the “refugee” label.