(Benjamin Moser’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 9/9.)
David Rieff went to Bosnia in September 1992, at the end of the first summer of siege. Like so many of the journalists who made the journey to Sarajevo, he did so because he believed, however implicitly, in the existence of a civilized world and in the duty to inform it. “If the news about Bosnia could just be brought home to people,” he thought, “the slaughter would not be allowed to continue. In retrospect, I should have known better than to believe in the power of unarmed truths.”
At the end of that first visit, he spoke to Miro Purivatra, who later founded the Sarajevo Film Festival, and asked if there was anything, or anyone, he could bring back. “One of the persons who could be perfect to come here to understand what’s going on would definitely be Susan Sontag,” he said. Without mentioning the connection—“for sure,” Miro said, “I did not know that he was her son”—David said he would do what he could. He appeared at Miro’s door a few weeks later. “We hugged each other and he told me, ‘Okay, you asked me something and I brought your guest here.’ Just behind the door, it was her. Susan Sontag. I was frozen.”
It would be at least a month before he figured out their relationship: “They never told me.” The first of what would turn out to be Susan’s eleven visits to a place that became so important to her life that a prominent downtown square is today named for her—so important that David would consider burying her there—took place in April 1993.