Annes Across the Sea

Perrin Ireland's first novel centers around tragedy and catharsis.

Ana Imagined, by Perrin Ireland. Graywolf Press, $22.95.

AN ODD AND AFFECTING story, this. Perrin Ireland divides the action of her first novel between Cambridge and Sarajevo. Here housewife and neophyte writer Anne imagines her counterpart, poet Ana, living with her playwright husband and young son during the siege of Sarajevo. While Anne deals with her own past and the problems revolving around the writing of a novel, Ana, Emir and Muhamed experience their lives and their civilization crumbling around them.

"Why are you so interested in Bosnia?" Anne's friends ask her when she speaks of her novel. Her poignant response is "Why aren't you interested in Bosnia?" The work becomes Anne's obsession and her means of catharsis. As Ana's situation unwinds, events mirror the worst hours of Anne's own life. The horrors and consequences of rape seal both women in an unlikely common bond.

The third Anne of this novel appears through the work of Ana's husband Emir, as he writes a play about Anne Frank. Touching details of Anne Frank's life in hiding infiltrate the work. Ana, like Anne Frank, takes valerian for her nerves. Emir sets up their furniture and apartment according to Anne Frank's description of her family's apartment. When they play Monopoly Muhammad explains, "Anne Frank and her family played Monopoly -- on April 7, 1944." They eventually decide to make up a new ending for Anne Frank's story. She will survive.

Best known for her work in film, Perrin Ireland demonstrates a fine gift for detail. The cinematic touches and the scope of the novel, tackling not only Bosnia, but also troubles from motherhood to Vietnam and Alzheimer's disease, build to comprise a uniquely strong work. Anne's husband, a survivor of Vietnam tragedies, tells her she needs to "bend with the bamboo." Sage advice that somehow we hope this brave writer will not take.