review by Maryom
1994 - and what used to be Yugoslavia is splitting into innumerable factions, all at war with each other. Into this turmoil venture a group of well-meaning young activists from Manchester, convinced that if they can reach Sarajevo in their van, and perform their peace-promoting play, all will be right with the world.
Andrew has definite views about the situation in Yugoslavia, believing utterly that war is a bad thing, but more importantly, from a personal perspective, beautiful, desirable Penny is writing the play and going along on the trip - volunteering will surely help him win her love, won't it? Certainly it will mean he can keep an eye on his rival Simon, and any moves he might attempt on Penny's affections. So Andrew joins the group, and they head off through Europe in a Transit van, carrying supplies for those displaced by war and bringing hope to all, or so they believe.
This is the first novel from Peep Show and The Thick of It writer Jesse Armstrong, a tale of naive do-gooders off to bring peace and happiness to a worn-torn country when all UN intervention has failed. As you'd expect it's fairly light, a lot nearer to Summer Holiday than The Killing Fields; even by the group's leader, passionate, fiery American Shannon, the whole thing's seen as more of a road trip with a little philanthropy on the side than a serious peace mission. The group potter about, making friends with a small-town war lord, hiring mercenaries, dodging bombs and bullets, seemingly unaware of the danger they could be in, and with Andrew's eye always fixed on his real reason for being there - getting to sleep with Penny.
It's not big on characterisation or deep insights into the plight of man, although the group do come to realise the horror of war and the futility of their plan. Overall the feeling is of wry humour, rather than laugh out loud comedy but it's an enjoyable enough read, though it felt at times like it might have been originally intended for screen rather than page.
It seems odd to label this as 'historical fiction' but set in the 1990s, what else could it be!
Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Jonathan CapeGenre - adult fiction, historical fiction, humour, road trip