Bruno Kamenar is a pale and thin ten year old boy who lives with his stepmother and younger brother in Croatia in 1948. His father, Pero, has just returned home after serving in the Yugoslav Federal Army. With the constant threat of a Soviet invasion serving as a backdrop, Bruno is plagued by frequent nightmares as well as a cough. He finds solace both in drawing and in the company of the family cow.

Sadly, Bruno contracts tuberculosis from the cow's fresh milk. At first he is unable to be treated because the government rejects an offer of free streptomycin from the Swiss. It is only after Pero publicly criticizes his country's refusal of medical aid and becomes a political prisoner that UNICEF physicians arrive at Bruno's home and treat him with streptomycin and PAS.

He recovers and his father is released from prison. As he watches the family cow and its pen incinerated, Bruno is filled with horror and relief by the death of an animal that once provided food and comfort but almost killed him.


This short story illustrates how government can sometimes impede public health. Although a cure for the sickly Bruno not only existed but was even free, the country's leader, Tito, refused the gift of streptomycin to prove that Yugoslavia was self-sufficient. Later (possibly to save face or because he realizes that citizens are needlessly dying), Tito reverses his position and accepts medication from the West.

Disease, politics, and war all seem to share common attributes in this story. They can be infectious, insidious, and commonplace. All three appear to prey on the innocent and engender suffering and sometimes death. Bruno discovers that illness somehow enhances his artistic capability. He also learns how deeply his father loves him. Ultimately, Novakovich warns that what sustains us can also destroy us.


The story first appeared in The Kenyon Review.

Primary Source

Salvation and Other Disasters



Place Published

Saint Paul, Minn.



Page Count