'Testimony' Fictionalizes Real-Life Oppression of Roma in Yugoslav Wars

Jun 23, 2017

The war in the former Yugoslav republics in the Balkans took place a quarter century ago. And while some of the atrocities perpetrated in those conflicts are known today, much about what transpired in Bosnia, Serbia and elsewhere is still shrouded in mystery.

The real-life mystery provides the backdrop for the mainly fictitious events that play out in writer Scott Turow’s latest novel, Testimony, which revolves around an American prosecutor who goes to work for the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate the reported mass death of a group of Roma living in a Bosnian refugee camp a decade before.

Turow is known for his novels such as Presumed Innocent and his law school memoir, One L. He says he was first inspired to write about the Yugoslav Wars after a trip to The Hague. 

"For reasons that the novel, frankly, sets forth in detail, there are a lot of American lawyers in The Hague, and I found myself in a circle of them who worked at the International Criminal Tribunal there," says Turow. "And they were all going, 'You've got to write a book about this. You've got to write a book about this place, these cases, the back channel diplomatic stuff, the personal relationships.' It's all amazing." 

"Because they have such limited educational and employment opportunities, the level of criminality among Roma in Europe is pretty high. They're the most imprisoned population in Europe."

The book's focus on Roma was born out Turow's own fascination with Roma culture. He believes Roma people tend to have a very different set of values from his own, but he sympathizes with their historical and modern mistreatment, which he says are often a result of their cultural differences. 

"I don't want to pretend that there are not some very difficult cross-cultural issues, because there are," Turow explains. "... Because they have such limited educational and employment opportunities, the level of criminality among Roma in Europe is pretty high. They're the most imprisoned population in Europe."

"But you can't use that as an excuse to deprive them of education or employment either," he continues. "At least that's where my thinking ended up. When you really become familiar with the history of oppression of the Roma people in Europe it is staggering." 

Turow will discuss his novel, Testimony, in more detail at a Boswell Book Company event at the Samson Jewish Community Center in Whitefish Bay on Sunday, June 25.