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First time in Tuzla
King of Tuzla
‘I wrote those stories down in the evenings,’ said Tijmen.
Without a word David took two new glasses from the waitress.
‘No one knew about it. In the evenings I created my own world.’
‘And during the day?’ asked David.
‘During the day I played the king of Tuzla.’
‘To the king!’ toasted David.
Two men sat down at the table next to theirs. Touché was the only pub that David and he sometimes went to: their old local in the centre of Arnhem. David had changed: he’d become calmer, more thoughtful. As always in summer there was a red glow on his skin, which shone with ointment. He suffered from a skin complaint and on hot summer days it always lay in waiting, ready to erupt. This disease made David’s appearance even more rugged, as if the grooves in his face had been etched all the deeper. And yet there was still something boyish about him.
Suddenly there were thoughts of another summer, long ago. He had bumped into David on the parade ground and his swollen skin was covered in ulcers. Only after much insistence had he agreed to tell the doctor. ‘Only because it’s you,’ he finally said.
At last Tijmen could tell someone what had got into him. It had a strange attraction that surprised him.
‘And so within a day of our farewell party in Srebrenica, I suddenly found myself at Tuzla Airbase.’
In flickering film images the base lay spread out before Tijmen. It was definitely going to be a beautiful day. It was raining, but the sun was making strenuous efforts to break through the clouds.
He started the jeep and pulled onto the road, leaving the wood with the company’s quarters behind him. At the kitchen one of the cooks waved to him. His hand went automatically to his beret.
For two days his company had been under the command of Nordbat, the Norwegian-Danish-Swedish battalion that was billeted around Tuzla, initially for a period of two weeks. Who could say whether it would stop at that? Links with the battalion in Srebrenica had been temporarily severed. Just as well: from now on he was more or less his own boss. He was king, king of Tuzla.
Hadn’t the commander said that he, Tijmen, was in command at night? He was filled with a modest feeling of pride. For the time being the commander was sleeping at the Tuzla Hotel. He chuckled, the men had dubbed the Norwegian air force colonel ‘Tom Cruise’.
The car shot across the dark-grey apron and then turned left onto the runway. He cast a quick glance into the distance at the hostile Viz mountain, where the Serbs had their positions. ‘Sugar Hill’, the Swedes called it. With rapid movements he steered the vehicle deftly from left to right across the gleaming asphalt. The tyres screeched: little chance of them hitting him.
Along the whole south-eastern side of the base there was no sign of a fence. In the distance were dark hills, clad in the green of dense pinewoods. This evening he would send an armoured personnel carrier, YPR, to this side of the camp to deter intruders. He had seen on the news how they had called the YPR a ‘tank’. He scoffed at the paradoxical nature of his mission: securing the airbase in order to ensure the supply of aid meant principally ‘keeping the population out’.
The radio crackled: ‘Romeo here, I’m leaving the runway.’
He passed the munitions storage and the hangars, which once housed the planes of the Yugoslav air force. Between two of the hangars was a wrecked aircraft, stranded on its belly. A red star still adorned the broken tail. Once this was the largest airbase in Yugoslavia. Someone had told him that there had been five runways.
He stopped at one of the observation posts built by the Swedes, got out and climbed the steps. ‘All alone, Drent?’
‘Kolenbrander’s gone for a crap.’
Drent handed him his plastic UN mug. Remnants of soup were stuck round the rim. He turned the cup round and sipped his tea. From here there was a good view of the road to the village, of all the traffic to and from the east where the front was. Not far away a few boys were practising basketball shots. On the other side the base stretched out, largely obscured from view by the woods behind the hangars.
Kolenbrander climbed the steps and joined them. Tijmen listened to the impact of mortar rounds to the north-east. How stultifyingly dull it must be for the men to note every strike, often miles away. There wasn’t much point to the task: in the evenings these notes were not listed in the situation reports. Only if the airbase itself came under fire, there was a slight chance that it would be noticed in the headquarters in Kiseljak.
‘Did you see that, cap?’
Drent pointed down. At the bottom of the tower the sandbags were torn. Tijmen made a note. Together with the repairs to the fence those tasks would be quite a job. What’s more, only part of his force had arrived. The rest were still in the hotel in Brela on the Croatian coast, and would follow on later.
He put his notebook away, put his hand on the banister of the steps and slid down. Over his shoulder he called out, ‘Just let the doctor know I’m on my way.’
Interested? So why not buy King of Tuzla
Number of pages: 210
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What was said about King of Tuzla
About the English edition
'If you want proof that literature has the power to change lives then this illustrates it on every level.' - Simon Quicke on his blog inside books
'The novel is worth reading for these cameos alone'
'with reflection the novel ends with more gravitas than a thousand cheap plot twists could give you' - Watching the Coast blog
‘King of Tuzla is a thinly-fictionalised account of the Bosnian War, infused with pathos and wit and the blackest of comedy.’
‘It is this empathy for the victims, as well as the witnesses, that makes King of Tuzla both a brutally honest coming-of-age novel and an important addition to the literature of modern war.’ - BookTrust Translated Fiction
‘King of Tuzla is a thought-provoking story about the conflict in Bosnia. The author uses beautiful prose to create a vivid feeling of the time and place, and an intense emotional narrative about the realities of war.’ - Bookish Magpie
‘In King of Tuzla Arnold Jansen op de Haar has successfully used fiction to tell a greater truth.’ - Emma Lee's Blog
‘King of Tuzla tells the story of service in the Balkans vividly, as only a soldier who served there can relay. The book is a must for the library of any military enthusiast or historian. - Stephen Phillips Blog
‘The book is a cracking read and I flew through it in a couple of days. Arnold Jansen op de Haar has obviously written this book from the heart...’
‘What Arnold has wonderfully done is included little stories from the locals about their lives and the effect the wars have had on them.’ - Winstonsdad’s Blog
‘A book which hits us with the reality of war’
‘Well written, the narrative has quite eloquent qualities and makes it very easy to picture the characters and the war-ravaged former Yugoslavia.’ - Contrary Life
‘The characterisation of Tijmen and his fellow officers is effective. Tijmen himself is an intriguing character...’
‘There are ... some lovely images and gorgeous rhythms ... this poignant description of Tijmen’s flat: "Eight years in the same flat, where time’s mechanism had jammed. No-one had been loved there."’ - Whispering Gums Blog
Also promoted on Novel Suggestions.
About the Dutch edition
‘A great addition to Dutch literature.’ – Hans Warren in several regional newspapers
‘A great debut.’ – Trouw (main quality Dutch newspaper)
Background informationTuzla Today & the Royal Military Academy
Alpha King's Company in action