In “Black Butterflies”, readers are treated to a rich tapestry of emotion, memory, and history. One can’t help but be pulled into the heart of Sarajevo, a city that Zora describes with intimate detail and love. Her descriptions paint a vivid picture of a place bursting with life, from the “blowsy roses” in June to the “ponderous old men playing chess in the cafés”. It’s a heartfelt reminder of the deep-rooted connections people often feel towards their homes, mirroring the sentiments many of us harbor about our own sanctuaries. It is this love of the city that makes the story so poignant when neighbour is pitched against neighbour and its multi-cultural centre is denied.

The novel, however, doesn’t shy away from the heartbreaks of war. The poignant moment where the narrator speaks of a “human chain to rescue books” and the subsequent loss of cultural heritage evokes a sense of profound grief. It’s a stark contrast to the earlier, warmer descriptions of Sarajevo, emphasizing the devastating impacts of conflict.

The narrative is described as being “sparse,” which might suggest its straightforward, unembellished nature, but yet this seems at odds with the beautiful description. The truth is it’s difficult to pin the narrative style down, especially as it is often in the present tense. Suffice to say the style serves the content well, allowing events and emotions to stand in sharp relief, unclouded by excessive prose.

“Black Butterflies” is as much about personal choices as it is about larger historical events. Zora’s decision to remain in Sarajevo, sending her loved ones to safety, poses questions about love, duty, and sacrifice. Her relationships, especially with Mirsad, are multifaceted and ask readers to ponder the true nature of love and commitment.

The title, “Black Butterflies,” remains an enigma, inviting readers to delve deeper into the story’s layers and perhaps find their own interpretations. Each character brings a unique perspective, with some, like Zora’s uncle, challenging our notions of morality and redemption.

One of the most intriguing stylistic choices is the incorporation of letters, which adds a touch of realism and personal intimacy to the story. However, it also prompts reflection on the authenticity and subjectivity of personal narratives.

In essence, “Black Butterflies” is a moving exploration of love, loss, resilience, and memory set against the backdrop of a city under siege. Through its vivid descriptions, poignant moments, and complex characters, the novel invites readers to reflect on the myriad ways conflict shapes lives, relationships, and our understanding of home.

Book Club Questions on Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris

This is how Zora describes Sarajevo: “She loves Sarajevo. She knows all its alleys and courtyards, all its scents and sounds—the way the light falls at the end of their street in wintertime, the rattle of the tram, the blowsy roses that bloom each June in the mosque gardens, the plums and fogs in the autumn, the ponderous old men playing chess in the cafés, the mahalas—the old neighborhoods—that radiate from the center like the spiral of a snail’s shell.”

Do you have strong feelings about the place you consider home? If so, would you like to share how you would describe it?

The narrator says, “Have you ever heard of such a thing? A human chain to rescue books.” As Samaritans, we can likely empathize with the positivity of this statement, but how do you react to the next sentences? “But what good did it do? They say almost two million documents burnt in there. First editions, rare manuscripts, land records, newspaper archives. Our heritage destroyed in a night.”

The narrative is described as being sparse. What is meant by this? How would you describe the narrative voice? Perhaps read a few lines now and discuss the effect it has on you as readers.

Art is an important thread of the book. Initially, we see her painting its bridges and landscapes—and later the destruction and fires that engulf the city. What role does art play in the book?

Zora sends Franjo (her husband) and her mother to the safety of England, but she stays in Sarajevo herself. Why is this? What different attitudes towards staying and leaving Sarajevo are expressed? What do you think you’d choose to do?

Explore the relationship between Zora and Mirsad. Do you believe they love each other? Why or why not?

The Siege of Sarajevo took place from 1992 to 1996, nearly three decades ago. Time moves on. Was anyone closely following the events back then? It’d be great to hear any perspectives or memories from that period!

Why is the book titled “Black Butterflies”? Discuss.Which character in “Black Butterflies” do you most admire and why?

Discuss why you think Zora’s uncle is so unpleasant. Do you believe he has any redeeming qualities?

Is “Black Butterflies” a love story? If so, between whom or what? Discuss.

What does it mean to be a weak person? How would you categorize the key characters in “Black Butterfly”?

“Black Butterfly” is partly written in letter form. Do you believe this adds positively to the novel? How likely is it that a letter truly represents any situation?

Book Club Questions on Black Butterflies (if you haven't read the book!)

In “Black Butterflies’ Zora arguably values art over everything else. She does everything she can to save her paintings. If you had to save a single thing in your life from fire, what woud you choose?

In “Black Butterflies” Zora eventually escapes to England. Discuss your attitudes and opinions about the worldwide refugee crisis.

The appeareance of butterflies are often associated with death. Do you believe in a spiritual world where this might be the case? 

If you were faced with the decision of leaving a war-torn country where you were life was in danger would you leave or stay? Discuss.

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