9.30:14 The Trigger, a book review

This year marks the centenary of the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and the start of World War I.

Tim Butcher's The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War recounts his dogged steps to understand assassin Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb who touched off chaos in 1914.

[book cover]

Butcher notably weaves together three narrative threads: the historical record of Princip's life (1914 and earlier); Butcher's experience as a war correspondent in the Bosnian war of the 1990s; and his on-the-scene research circa 2010.

Moreover, Butcher explores Princip's life by literally walking the youth's journey from farm boy in the village of Obljaj in northwest Bosnia to schooling in Sarajevo, an interlude over the border to Belgrade, Serbia, then the fateful return to Sarajevo where nineteen-year-old Princip murdered the Archduke and his wife Sophie as they motored past the street crowds.

But what was the motive?

Often Princip is portrayed as a Serbian nationalist. Butcher refutes this as inaccurate. Princip was not Serbian, but Bosnian. A Bosnian Serb, true, and one whose anger was at oppression by the Austro-Hungarian Empire which had annexed Bosnia in 1908. Princip's dream was a return to independence for all Bosnian Slavs, be they Serbs, Croats, or Muslims.

Alas, Butcher's experience covering the Bosnian War--with its ethnic clashes of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims--is a side issue to his overarching assertion Princip's core values were pan-Bosnian Slav. Butcher's remembrances from the war correspondent years, often riveting, don't offer context or insight into what motivated Princip to pull the trigger to trigger WWI.

Certainly the assassination got World War I underway: Austria-Hungary used the assassination as a pretext for declaring war on Bosnia's neighbor, Serbia. The perspective of one hundred years still gives the slim pretext as (1) Princip got his gun in Belgrade and (2) the youthful assasssin probably fell under the influence of older, radical Serbs during his stay in Belgrade (Black Hand, the secretive Serbian group usually gets credit).

So while The Trigger is a fascinating retracing of the steps that took Princip to his destiny in Sarajevo, I'm afraid a solid motive is not one Tim Butcher delivers. Some suggestive hints, but why a bookish young man committed a violent act that meant probable death (Princip actually swallowed cyanide after the assassination, but lived) is left unanswered.

The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War by Tim Butcher, Grove Press, 1914, 326 pp., ISBN: 978-0-8021-2325-1

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.

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