"A marvel, a remarkable achievement, and a world apart from anything you are likely to read this year." —Téa Obreht, The New York Times Book Review
In 1980s Yugoslavia, a young Muslim girl is married off to a man she hardly knows, and what was meant to be a happy match quickly goes wrong. Shortly thereafter, the country is torn apart by war and she and her family flee to Finland, where her son Bekim grows up to become a social outcast—not just an immigrant in a country suspicious of foreigners but also a gay man in an unaccepting society. Aside from casual hookups, his only companion is a boa constrictor that, improbably (he is terrified of snakes), he lets roam around his apartment.
Then one night, at a gay bar, Bekim meets a talking cat, who also moves in with him. It is this witty, charming, manipulative creature who starts Bekim on a journey back to Kosovo to confront his demons and make sense of the magical, cruel, incredible history of his family. And this, in turn, enables Bekim finally to open himself to true love—which he will find in the most unexpected place.
FM Pajtim Statovci (s. 1990) on Suomen kansainvälisesti menestyneimpiä kirjailijoita. Kriitikoiden ja lukijoiden rakastamat romaanit, Kissani Jugoslavia ja Tiranan sydän, ovat saaneet englanninkielisessä maailmassa haltioituneen vastaanoton. Hänen teostensa käännösoikeuksia on myyty yli 15 kielialueelle. Statovci palkittiin esikoisromaanistaan Kissani Jugoslavia Helsingin Sanomien kirjallisuuspalkinnolla, ja Tiranan sydän voitti Toisinkoinen-kirjallisuuspalkinnon. Statovci asuu Helsingissä ja valmistelee Helsingin yliopistossa väitöskirjaa kirjallisuuden eläinrepresentaatioista.
Tiranan sydän (englanniksi Crossing) oli ehdolla arvostetun National Book Awards -palkinnon saajaksi. Bolla sai Finlandia-palkinnon 2019. (Otavan verkkosivuston kirjailijaprofiili)
Years ago I remember wishing I could experience a bit of what immigrants experience, or that some could communicate their experiences in ways I could understand. They’d started out somewhere I’d never been, and they’d arrived somewhere they’d never imagined. Like Finland. Cold, white, communal, with few racial or religious tensions. I was eager to hear it all, but such stories, if they existed, were rarely published in the U.S. All that has changed now and I couldn't be happier.
This remarkable debut by the 27-year-old Statovci gives us that strangeness, familiarity, differentness, and similarity in a wild ride from Kosovo to Finland, from traditional society to an open society, from cultural acceptance to social ostracism. See how the arrows in that sentence seem to point in opposite directions? Therein lies the tension.
Two seemingly unrelated stories, one featuring a talking cat, twine and twist through the first part of the novel, both stories engrossing: a woman describes the lead-up to her traditional marriage…the clothes, the gold, the mother-to-daughter secrets, the preparations. The other thread features the cat and a snake, neither of which we want to take out eyes off for very long. They are both dangerous.
As readers we don’t object to the fact of the cat, though by rights we should. He is thoroughly obnoxious, insulting his host and then being falsely obsequious. He comes for a tryst and stays for meal, which he then refuses on the grounds such food would never cross his lips. He insists on eating meat in a vegetarian’s house, and he takes long, splashy showers…he is your worst nightmare, the height of self-regard.
The snake—I’d like to hear your take on the snake. A boa constrictor. He’s a wily one, seems to have formed a kind of attachment to his owner, in that he doesn’t threaten him, but he does threaten a guest…Throw a dangerous animal into a story and see if your attention flags. It’s a old trick that works every time. We don’t take our eyes from him whenever he appears from behind the couch.
But it is the story of the wedding that grabs us by the balls, as the expression goes. We are shocked, distressed, angry. We try to imagine how we would handle what comes up, both as a young person, and as an adult. We think over decisions we make so quickly, painlessly in adulthood that are so tortuous and fraught in youth.
All this is overlaid with the portrait of a family of seven living in one room provided by the Finnish government to refugees. The bunk-beds squeak so cannot be used. Mattresses cover the floor. Four or more families share a kitchen, a bathroom. It is nearly intolerable until they remember what they left, native Albanians in a Kosovo run amok. The Bosnian War was brutal beyond all imagining. There is that.
The stories twist and twine through one another like the loops of a snake, another of which, a poisonous viper, makes an appearance later in the book. The viper is only a meter long, and is captured in a plastic bag. It doesn’t provoke as much anxiety as it should. When a plastic bag reappears later in the story, holding not a snake but a book, The White King by György Dragomán, we wonder…can the snake represent his father, the bully whose influence stays around, silently inhabiting the places we live? Deadly, but sometimes ineffective, who might be deflected or exorcised with understanding and effort.
And the cat? There is more than one cat. The first cat talks. The second cat was abandoned, uncared for, unloved in the native country until rescued and restored to health. And finally, there is the black cat in a litter, “just normal, mongrel kittens,” in the author’s words, to distinguish them from the black and white cat who speaks, and the orange cat who doesn’t. The talking cat so full of himself could be the author himself, and the follow-on cats could be those who’d suffered during the war, coming finally to the children, those ‘normal’ integrated ‘mongrels’ who’d adjusted to their new environment in their adopted country and married with locals.
The disturbing shifting sexuality throughout this novel, in a person from a traditional culture with unresolved parent issues, has a touch of intimidation and coercion about it, in the beginning at least. By the end I am much more comfortable that our narrator’s sexual choices are healthy ones, and begin to wonder…is this one of the things that caused the rift between his father and himself?
Statovci succeeds in capturing our attention with this debut, recounting an agonizing childhood and an adulthood filled with sudden emotional traps. His use of a female point of view is extraordinarily effective in making us inhabit her choices. He shows us the distance an émigré may feel from his host country, no matter how conflicted these feelings are with gratefulness and surprise and ordinary, daily joy at being alive. He shows us the pointed, hateful bullying in town—a step up from ordinary school bullying—that may provoke withdrawal rather than a healthy resistance and reliance on home-grown values.
This is a thrilling debut. Bravo!
Just came upon this terrific piece in Lit Hub by Statovic which explains much of the novel's imagery in straightforward terms. Gosh, I like this guy. What a miraculous job, to have written this novel.
I would really like to thank the publisher for sending me a copy of this book!
Translated from Finnish and set in the backdrop of the Yugoslav war, it follows two narrative that intertwine of a mother and son, where we get to know the rest of the family. Emine, who is married off to someone she barely knows and Bekim, her son, who's a gay Muslim and keeps a boa constrictor and cat for company.
This book was extremely thought-provoking. Honest and raw. I loved how the author delved into and explored what war, becoming an immigrant, the stereotype and harsh reluctance you have to face whilst settling into a foreign country that alienates you and you feel alienated in, can do to the human psyche. It was interesting to see what human emotions can manifest into. What we gravitate towards for comfort and acceptance when it is not provided, in whatever capacity it may be.
For a debut novel, it's quite powerful and written beautifully. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It seems there's a popular understanding of this book as a disjointed repository of immigrant melancholy, an interpretation that scapegoats the book's absurdist elements while missing the real point. Readers, including the NPR critic whose review is the top Google result for author Statovci's name, dwell on the more violent and ire-filled passages, apparently shocked successively by the talking cat, pet snake, and domestic violence. So I'll encourage us all to take a deep breath and say together, al-le-go-ry.
Didn't that feel good? This is, after all, a book named after a talking, drinking, dancing cat. If you're put off by that, there's no reason to open the cover.
Every passage in this book is about some aspect of attachment: inexplicable attraction, self-defeating devotion, longing, resentment, acceptance and the lack thereof. In the early pages, Bekim hooks up with an online contact, adopts a boa constrictor, and U-hauls it with a talking cat. Decades earlier, his mother, Emine, finds herself married off to a man who seemed quite alright until he proved himself terrible. There are predictable (and realistic) parallels between Bekim's parents' marriage and his relationships with the creatures to whom he keeps indenturing himself. Thanks to the cat and the snake, that aspect of the story doesn't come off as a redundant sad-sac triptych or overly theatrical, but instead as a bizarre misadventure.
Importantly, there's real character development for both Bekim and Emine. It's possible to see them as victims three times over--of patriarchal tyranny, xenophobia, and war--and this compound trauma and loss is central to the book. Yet it is not the whole story. In fact, part of the developmental arc involves Bekim and Emine changing their relationships with these forces. If that's easily missed, it shouldn't be: Part III of the book is titled "When you reach the life you wanted."
These points aren't spoilers -- this book is far richer than the sequence of scenes that build the plot. Its brilliance lies in the minutiae within each passage, the stories Bekim and Emine tell themselves as they tolerate objectively unacceptable circumstances and the gradual courage that develops while the influence of the aforementioned awful forces erodes. It's not a fable nor a fairy tale, but an explanation of a very ordinary, imperfect journey from fear to connection.
If we're lucky, a film studio will option this book and Yorgos Lanthimos will direct.
He blindly believed in his own world and trusted that his own faith would save him from all imaginable sins for which he feared divine retribution. It wasn’t a bad way to live your life.
Sigh. I wanted to like this book far more than I did. It gives great interest into the immigrant experience in host countries, where displaced people are often treated as second-hand citizens, bringing with them their grubby cultures bristling with misogyny, homophobia and ethnic tensions (all too often this is a reflection of the underlying sociopolitical issues in these host countries themselves, which is a big theme here.)
The volatility of the issue has recently been underscored by the narrative of ‘privileged’ treatment of Ukrainian immigrants fleeing the Russian invasion, as opposed to the markedly different treatment meted out to refugees from non-Westernised (and less desirable) countries like Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria.
So Pajtim Statovci certainly knows what he is talking about, especially as a ‘Kosovo-born Finnish writer’. The Guardian memorably describes his debut novel as beginning “with a chap called blackhetero-helsinki prowling the internet in search of ‘fun and games’, continues with a lonely immigrant student getting into a relationship first with a boa constrictor and then a haughty cat he meets in a bar singing along to Cher’s Believe, and ends with a series of ruminations about the violence of men, of memory, of migration.’
That sentence actually works better than the novel does, which I found to be fragmentary and disconnected, if not discordant in places. The attempts at surrealism undermine its message of the alienating effects of dislocation, rather than reinforcing it, as Kurt Vonnegut does so memorably in ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ (1969), conflating the WWII fire bombing of Dresden with an alien invasion B-plot.
Still, this a brave novel and a bracing read. Statovci is certainly a writer to watch, with his latest ‘Bolla’ getting good reviews.
Μια ιστορία γεμάτη μοναξιά,μια ιστορία για ανθρώπους χωρίς πατρίδα. Η Εμινέ,μια νεαρή κοπέλα που ζει στο Κόσοβο, βρίσκεται παντρεμένη με έναν άντρα που δεν γνωρίζει και προσπαθεί να ανταπεξέλθει όσο καλύτερα μπορεί στην νέα κατάσταση παρόλο που απο την πρώτη μέρα φάνηκε οτι ο έγγαμος βίος της δεν θα είναι ρόδινος.Όταν,λίγο πριν τη διάλυση της Γιουγκοσλαβίας,η Εμινέ με τον άντρα και τα πέντε παιδιά της αναγκάζονται να μεταναστεύσουν στην Φινλανδία,τα πράγματα στην οικογένεια χειροτερεύουν αφού έχουν πλέον να αντιμετωπίσουν και τη ζωή σε ενα ξένο και εχθρικό περιβάλλον που καμία σχέση δεν έχει με τη γη της επαγγελίας που ονειρευόταν. Ο Μπεκίμ,ο γιος της Εμινέ,μεγαλώνει με έναν πατέρα βίαιο και καταπιεστικό.Πηγαίνει σε ένα σχολείο οπου τα παιδιά τον κοροϊδεύουν λόγω της καταγωγής του και καταλήγει να ντρέπεται για τους γονείς του,για αυτό που είναι,και να κλείνεται στον εαυτό του. Και οι δύο πρέπει να αντιμετωπίσουν τους δαίμονες τους,το παρελθόν τους,την απέραντη μοναξιά τους και να ξεκινήσουν ένα νέο κεφάλαιο στη ζωή τους. Μου άρεσε πολύ αν και είναι περίεργο βιβλίο,ξεκινάει με μια φευγαλέα σεξουαλική επαφή ανάμεσα στον Μπεκίμ και σε έναν άντρα που γνώρισε ονλάιν και δημιουργεί αμέσως στον αναγνώστη αυτήν την αίσθηση μοναξιάς που διατρέχει ολόκληρη την ιστορία,έχει πολλά μπρος πίσω στο χρόνο,έχει δύο αφηγητές,έχει έναν τεραστιο βόα σφιγκτήρα να περιφέρεται ,και φυσικά όπως φαίνεται και στο εξώφυλλο,έχει και έναν γάτο που φοράει κοστούμι και μιλάει.Έναν καθόλου συμπαθητικό γάτο δυστυχώς.
Stavoci is remarkably confident. The writing zings. The novel begins with a gay hookup that was very well written, just a stunning use of a scene to create the inner life, very quickly, of an alienated gay man--who happens too to be a literal alien--from Yugoslavia to Finland. The smells in this book are brilliantly rendered. A snake and a cat figure prominently in the story and the relationship that the protagonist has with each is weird, unsettling, and perfect. I'm respectful of this author and look forward to the next novel.
I struggled with this book at the beginning and then grew to love it. I wasn't sure what to make of it, especially when Bekim seemed to be talking to cat who was talking back. It felt like this part was out of the blue completely and that maybe I was reading a Murakami story. That part ended quickly which only made it even more strange.
But.. This story is about a family who moves from Kosovo to Finland for a better life, a better home and away from the war that was happening back there. It's narrated from two points of view. The mother- her story, her childhood and her marriage all the way to the present day. And the son- his life as a grown up, his memories of his childhood, his snake and cat, his love affairs with men and his deep loneliness.
Throughout the book and from the very start you can feel the son's immense loneliness. He grows up with distant parents, a father who is always angry and in a foreign country where he has mastered the language and tried to blend in but people continue t bully him for being a refugee and yelling at him to go home. There's a feeling throughout the book that his family and himself are all lost and displaced. Living on the edge and not knowing when it's time to call Finland home -if ever- and not knowing if Kosovo will ever be home again either. His life changes by the end, you can feel there's a glimmer of hope, that he found someone he loves and he can stop his mind from going to dark places; but even then, even in the good moments you feel his mind spiraling and you feel him going back to that loneliness.
Likewise, the mother shares that feeling of loneliness. She is married off early because she has mistakenly said her name to a stranger only to find him appearing at their front door asking for her hand. She has no say in the matter, but she gave herself some space to think that maybe it will all work out. Only to find out from the first day that her life trajectory will not be as pleasant as she has hoped for. She fills the void she feels by doing house chores as best she can. It's quite sad how many women feel unsafe or unable to leave their abusive husbands or their unhappy life/marriage. She has not been able to call Finland home either, but has found a way to ease her anxiety towards her thoughts about home and stability. She does end up finding a bit peace at the end, being independent, finding a job and adopting a little kitten. Her loneliness doesn't go away and she's unable to fathom how one can live so alone, whether it's better to live unhappily rather than being alone.
There are millions and millions of refugees around the world who have a similar story, who are unable to find a home, who are unable to provide a stable life for their families and themselves and who are feeling immense loneliness throughout all of that. It makes me wonder about how they're fleeing their war-torn countries to a foreign land with a foreign language trying to adapt only to find that life is still throwing hardships at them and they're still trying their best to thrive. It's always hard imagining how selfish we can be when we're told to think of the "refugee crisis" as a survival crisis for the citizens.
Pajtim Statocvi kertoi tarinan, jonka lähtömaa oli Jugoslavia. Sellaista maata ei enää ole, sillä se on hajonnut. Sota, vainot, pakolaisuus, maahanmuutto, maahanmuutajana asuminen vieraassa maassa, nuo ilmiöt tulevat hyvin esille Kissani Jugoslavia teoksessa. Rinnan oman erilaisuuden hyväksymisen kanssa kulkee seksuaalisuus, johon fantasia antaa oman lisävärityksen Bekimin tarinassa. Äidin ja pojan tarinat ovat sävyltään erilaiset, mikä on juonellisesti hyvä asia, sillä heitä erottaa niin moni asia. Taianomainen, värikäs, vahva, salaperäinen, väkivaltainen, symbolinen ja seksuaalinen kirja antaa lukijalle kukkuramäärin ajateltavaa. Pidän vahvoista tarinoista, joissa juoni ei pysähdy. Kissani Jugoslavia suorastaan hyökkää päälle, raapii vahvoilla kynsillä, ja köyristää selkänsä vihaisesti, samalla kun häntä viuhtoo puolelta toiselle. Juuri kun luulee, että nyt on ehkä pieni hetki hengähtää, niin uudet kuviot luikertelevat päälle, ne kietoutuvat jalan ympärille, siitä vatsan ja selän ympäri ja sanat tuovat silmieni eteen punaisen kaksihaaraisen kielen, terävät hampaat ja tappajan silmät.
Μια Κοσοβάρα νύφη, ο βίαιος καταπιεστικός της άντρας, ο πόλεμος της Βοσνίας, η μετανάστευση στην Φινλανδία, ο gay γιος τους, το φίδι βόας σφιγκτήρας (παραδόξως ντροπαλό που κρύβεται κάτω από τους καναπέδες) που παίρνει ως κατοικίδιο, ένας εραστής γάτος που μιλάει, φοράει κουστούμι, είναι ομοφοβικός και ρατσιστής, και ο Γιώργος Νταλάρας σε φιλική συμμετοχή. Μετανάστες και ομοφυλοφιλία, το υγρό όνειρο κάθε συντάκτη της Λάιφο, μόνο που ενώ στην αρχή σε παρασέρνει το παράδοξο, στο τέλος γίνεται ένα pure mess, με οχιές σε σακούλες που πετάει ο ήρωας στο πρόσωπο του παππού του, γάτοι από εδώ και από εκεί, λίγο από φεμινισμό, και ένας ήρωας που ενδιαφέρεται μέχρι και για τις παραγκουπόλεις στην άλλη άκρη της γης, αλλά όχι για τους γονείς του,χωρίς να καταλαβαίνουμε πότε ακριβώς γιατί. "Τίμιο" βιβλίο με προοπτικές, αλλά καταλήγει στο πουθενά. Και τα daddy issues που έχει ο συγγραφέας (καθόλου τυχαία η επιλογή του πολύ μεγαλύτερου εραστή με γένια όπως ο πατέρας του) δεν θα τα λύσω εγώ. Νιάου.
ΥΓ : Βόσνιοι, Σέρβοι, Αλβανοί και... Σκοπιανοί. Πολύ θα ήθελα να δω πως αναφέρονται στο πρωτότυπο κείμενο. Σκοπιανοί ; Χα ! Αλλά σου λέει ο Πατάκης, γράψτους Σκοπιανούς, ποιος είμαι, ο Τσίπρας;
Someone could tell me that this book is a work of genius, snakes represent this and cats represent that, and I would say, yes, of course, I see. Or someone could tell me that it makes no sense and I would say, sure, of course.
I enjoyed reading the two stories of mother and son, although it was about the 2/3 point that I realized I would most likely end the book as confused as I was at that moment. I'm planning to read some reviews to try to make sense of it, although that feels a little bit like cheating on a crossword puzzle.
Shame on the publisher for inflicting this unripened novel on the world. The Kosovar mom's story is heart-rending and realistically told, but the interleaved narrative of her gay son, a refugee in Finland, is simply awful: he is nothing but a conglomeration of resentments, ideas, and neuroses. His pet is a boa constrictor; in the most unenjoyable, unreal, bizarre section, one of his boyfriends is a talking, racist, homophobic cat. Need I say more?
A queer novel, in every sense of the word, but not one that grew on me. There's a bit of a bait and switch in the beginning, with a gay young man as a first person narrator. That only lasts a very few pages. Then the first person narrator switches to a young woman in 1980s Yugoslavia.
The gay character barely reappears, except for the final chapters. The intervening bulk of the book is the story of the post-Tito deterioration of the amalgamation of entities shaped into Yugoslavia, as well as the story of a young bride and her rude awakening into a difficult life.
Also, the family moves to Finland.
There are cats in various forms, and some snakes, none of them realistic. They are metaphors, of course, as in the title, but the balance between the surreal and historical aspects felt off to me. I'm sorry, but I struggled to read this book, I never fell under its spell, but of course as one must do under these circumstances, please allow me to reaffirm, it's not you it's me.
Loved this book! I'm not sure if I would describe this as a book for cat lovers, though people who love cats and snakes will find it engrossing - this is a book for lonesome souls, of people who are struggling to build a life, a home.
I listened to the audiobook version of this book and the narration was really good. However,I really struggled with this book and halfway through the story I could not read anymore to preserve my sanity. This is the weirdest book that I have ever had the experience of listening too. Not my cup of tea I'm afraid but I did notice that some people really enjoyed reading this story.
Recommended by the estimable (unless you're the Cheeto in Chief) New York Times, this debut novel by Kosovo-born Finn Pajtim Statovci is just plain weird. Odd, and uneven, which might mean the same thing, but in fact counts as two criticisms.
The plots, following Mom and son, stretch out over time. Mom's, the more pedestrian narrative of the two, is more conventional and slower paced. It's simply the tale of a young bride who marries a fellow Yugoslavian who is strong, handsome, and the worst kind of male chauvinist you'd ever want to meet.
If you're looking for "I am woman, hear me roar," this is not the place to turn in ear. Emine does all the house work, raises the kids, waits on her unappreciative husband's every desire, and is never thanked. Meanwhile, the book inserts a bit (nothing is focused on for very long) of Yugoslavia's demise as it describes the disintegration of that country in internecine fighting.
Meanwhile, the family flees to Finland and her weird son Bekim grows up and gets himself a pet boa constrictor as a "friend" in his apartment. He also picks up a cat that talks (channeling Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, clearly) at a gay bar, and the fussy cat/man gets into an epic battle with the boa constrictor.
Just another day in the life of an immigrant, right?
As the book stretches out over the years, the narrative alternates between great stretches of "telling" in the Emine plot and great stretches of pitiful slash weird in the Bekim sub-needs-a-plot. The reader never becomes terribly invested in any of these characters, so it's difficult to feel their pain in any but a passing manner. Emine, I suppose, is the most likable. Or maybe the boa. The cat and Bekim are equally ridiculous in their ways.
For a freshman effort, not bad, but it's not the sort of book you pick up with joy so much as pick up to finish. Style points for reading contemporary world literature, too.
Definitely pulls you in. I finished it in one day. Both the Finns and the Kosovans take hits, but the core story is how hard it is to be an immigrant. There is a lot of humanity, but also a lot of violence and misogyny (in the characters; it clearly appalls the author). I would definitely read more by Statovci.
When I finished Pajtim Statovci’s My Cat Yugoslavia , translated by David Hackston, yesterday (June 3rd) afternoon. I just had to wait and let everything settle. A good chunk of the book is dominated by two rather unwieldy metaphors and I needed to think about them. Now after 24 hours I think I can write something decent.
The book is divided into two narratives. One takes place in Kosovo and details Emine’s marriage to the handsome Bajram. Unfortunately the marriage does not work out and amid domestic violence and the looming war, Emine and Bajram decide to move to Finland.
The second narrative concerns the couple’s youngest son Bekim, who grows up in Finland, where he hooks up with gay men. Due to his failure with relationships, Bekim decides to buy a constrictor, to which gravitates towards. One day he comes across a life sized cat in a gay bar and they hook up, with the cat living with him, although this relationship turns into a dominant/submissive one.
I saw both the snake and the cat as metaphors for Bekim’s inner struggles. As a child of immigrants, he finds it difficult to blend into Finnish society but this outsider quality is also prominent during his visits to Kosovo. All Bekim’s problems with being accepted are encapsulated with the cat. This animal represents contrariness, rebellion and hatred, all which Bekim suffers from. At one point in the book, Bekim’s parents send him to a psychologist and we find out that he has a fear of both snakes and cats. This could mean that the cat represents fear of facing reality.
The snake, although one of Bekim’s fears, seems to represent his dealings with humans. Since Bekim has problems bonding with humans, the snake befriends him and they have a relationship where he lets the snake suffocate him gently. Later on in the book and in the opening we see how he handles his boyfriends/one night stands.
To confuse matters, there’s one scene where Bekim returns to Kosovo and befriends a cat and kills a snake so maybe the whole of his narrative was a story just to emphasise his situation as a child of immigrants? It’s not that clear.
The Emine/Bajram narrative is easier as it is in chronological order and tells things in a clear way. Through Emine the reader understands how male-centric Kosovar traditions are and Ermine’s struggles are because she has to be submissive but does not want to be. Eventually when the family move to Finland, because of the Kosovan war. Bajram understands that society is different and cannot cope. Emine does break free and survives. Other than a commentary on sexism, i would also say that the Emine narrative is a snapshot of how immigrants are treated.
Despite the not so clear parts, I enjoyed My Cat Yugoslavia thoroughly: The Bekim narrative is great and example of how magical realism can be weird without being a distraction to the book. The Emine narrative is addictive as it an interesting look at rites. I have never read any literature about Kosovo (although I remember the war clearly as I was 20 at the time and it was big news) but My Cat.. was quite an eye opener, coincidentally I’ll be reading Adam Mars Jones’ Batlava Lake so I’m curious to see which aspect of Kosovan culture Mars Jones will focus upon.
Statovci tells the story of a family of Albanian refugees in Finland by weaving the story of the matriarch, Emine, and youngest son, Bekim. This is a story about immigration, love, acceptance, violence, and so many other things.
It’s very clear that Statovci was influence by Mikhail Bulgakov(this article says that his favorite book is The Master and Margarita). This influence is most obvious by the appearance of a rude, homophobic, obnoxious, and conceited cat. He constantly insults Bekim and emotionally abuses and manipulates him.
Oh, did I mention Bekim has a pet snake? A boa constrictor to be exact. They live in relative co-habitation and the snake has free reign of Bekim’s apartment. To a point the relationship is symbiotic .
Also, I feel like I shouldn’t have to mention this to the wonderfully intelligent readers on this platform, but I will… this is an allegory. Obviously talking cats and Bekim’s pet snake are not meant to be biologically accurate.
Emine’s story is much more traditional in that she doesn’t come across any talking cats or have any odd pets. However, her story is just as sad (if not more so) than that of her son Bekim’s. I’ve read some reviews in which the reviewer is frustrated with Emine because she stays in a violent relationship. Let me say this, I work with refugee and immigrant survivors of domestic, community, and intimate partner violence for my ‘9-5’. Being a refugee in a DV situation makes leaving MUCH harder. Not only are they just trying to survive day-to-day (and often trying to protect their kids), but they’re dealing with new systems, a new language, and a community (or lack of) that may be alienating rather than welcoming. Also, we know that leaving the abuser is the MOST DANGEROUS time for a survivor because the abuser is in danger of losing their control over the survivor. All of that to say, I will not listen to anyone who has anything bad to say about Emine (or any DV survivor) because she survived and that’s what matters.
When I started this, I was concerned that this would be another Murakami-esque tale of Bekim, an emotionally-stunted bland urban millennial in IKEAville living with whimsical giant-sized pets and in deep alienation from his Kosovan immigrant parents. But this developed into something much more unsettling and uncomfortable and ugly, as the narrator-protagonist's possessive, abusive, and manipulative behavior became ever more apparent, and as his roommate (or something furrier and kinkier?) relationship with a talking, fully-functional, man-sized cat paralleled his deteriorating live-in romance with an older (but possibly more real) man, punctuated by random Tinder hookups.
But the strongest thread of the novel was definitely the diary of Emine, a girl who becomes Bekim's mother, as she grows up in a patriarchal household in rural Kosovo, endures an arranged marriage to an emotional and physical abuser, and flees for Finland as the Balkan Wars turn horrific. Statovci writes so evocatively and intuitively about the immigrant experience, and its differential effects upon alienated parents and assimilated children. And we finally realize that Bekim is replaying the abusive patterns of his parents' marriage, inflicting violence upon both human and animal subjects.
This is one of the best translated books I've read recently! The translation from Finnish by David Hackston read like a dream, and the story itself was so compelling. I'm a huge fan of dual narratives that eventually intertwine, with an added bonus if I enjoy both narratives equally, as was the case here. . One story is told from the POV of Bekim, a young man originally from Kosovo who immigrated to Finland with his family as a young boy to escape the mounting tensions in their country. The other is told by Emine, a young woman in Kosovo who suddenly finds herself married off, raising kids and keeping house with her unpleasant husband. I've never read anything set in Kosovo before, or a book about immigration to Finland. It was eye-opening to see the treatment the family received upon entering Finland. Xenophobia and discrimination are rife, making it impossible for the family to fit in and call it home. . Statovci muses on belonging a lot during the book. Although Emine's husband is not a likeable character, he raises an interesting point about belonging. He's not welcomed in Finland, but now he's not welcome back in his home country either, as his former friends and acquaintances think he's turned his back on them and Kosovo, that he's 'too good' for them now. . Bekim, as well as being treated with hostility because of his 'outsider' status, is also gay. The anxieties and fears he experiences become a living breathing thing in the form of a talking cat he meets in a nightclub. This talking cat moves in with him, a homophobic, xenophobic tyrant who takes over Bekim's life, tormenting him and his pet boa constrictor. I am not the greatest at interpreting symbolism in novels, and some of the snake metaphors were a bit lost on me, but overall I loved it. . This is a book I would definitely want to reread in the future, so clever and powerful! I will definitely be picking up Statovci's latest novel, Crossing, too.
Oddly, while reading this I kept thinking of the better known 'Exit West' - and how THIS does a much better job of delineating the immigrant experience AND integrating fantastic elements, than did Hamid's book. Statovci does not fall victim to those pitfalls of most debut novelists - his book is streamlined, fast paced, and even in translation the prose is remarkable. Although much of it is surely autobiographical, he maintains firm control over the material, even the more bizarre sections with the talking cat (Bulgakov would be proud!). About my only quibble is that the sections narrated by his mother somewhat overshadow those of the protagonist himself, and I am not quite so sure that he has found a lasting love by the end as he thinks he has (I don't think Sami is anyone's idea of the ideal boyfriend!) .
Monet ovat tästä kirjasta pitäneet, mutta minun makuuni tämä oli liian kummallinen. Äiti Eminen tarina vei mukaansa ja albanialaiset perinteet sekä Suomi ulkomaalaisen silmin kiinnostivat, mutta kissoihin ja käärmeisiin liittyvä puolisko ei valitettavasti auennut minulle yhtään.
I recall my lecturer briefly mentioning this book during Finnish literature course, but it never occurred to me that I should read it, as judging by the cover it seemed weird and uninteresting, yet another odd "Finnish queer" book. Three years later, when Patim Statovci won the Finlandia award for Bolla I finally decided to pick it up and see for myself what's so special about this author. Now I only wish I had done that earlier. Had my lecturer highlighted what a great book Kissani Yugoslavia is! This rather elegant and subtly written novel caught me and pulled me in. Two equally gripping stories are told simultaneously, and at first it seems that they are not connected at all; later, one might think that they share similar topics, such as abusive relationships, alienation and loneliness; somewhere at the middle everything connects, of course. I honestly can't recall the last time reading was such a vivid and emotional experience: I felt fear and anger and my heart did hurt as the story of Emine unfolded. I should mention not only the gripping narrative, but also a peculiar lightness of style. I read it pleasantly (regardless of the avalanche of multicoloured feelings) and very quickly. And yet, I don't think I can ever forget it.
2022: Vähän jännitin kirjan lukemista etukäteen, mutta pidin kirjasta vähintään yhtä paljon kuin edellisellä kerralla! Edellisellä lukukerralla häirinneet outoudet olivat tällä kertaa jopa mielenkiintoisia, koska niiden merkitystä oli hauska pohtia lukupiirin tapaamisessa. Tällä lukukerralla olisin kuitenkin toivonut, että päähenkilö Bekimin tarina olisi auennut hieman enemmän kuin mitä kirjassa siitä oli päätetty kertoa.
2017: Huh, mikä esikoisromaani. Tarina oli koskettava ja se vei mukanaan jo heti ensisivuilta lähtien. Yksi tähti lähtee siitä, että osa tapahtumista oli hieman liian outoja minulle tai sitten en vain ymmärtänyt niitä tarpeeksi.
There are good bones in this book, but in the end it's unpolished. I was set to give a higher rating, because of the strong storytelling when the author describes the refugee experience especially in the Emine storyline. The Bekim storyline was so discombobulated and I kind of hated the ending.
Vaikuttavaa kerrontaa, monimerkityksellistä ja karuakin. Statovci kuvaa ihmismieltä ja ihmisen toimintaa kiinnostavan kumartelemattomalla tavalla. Jokin kuitenkin piti hieman etäällä, sillä en aivan uponnut Kissani Jugoslavian maailmaan. Hieno kirja yhtä kaikki.
”Kissani Jugoslavia” on 24-vuotiaan kirjallisuutta ja käsikirjoittamista opiskelevan Pajtim Statovcin vahva, vivahteikas ja maaginen debyyttiromaani. Kirja voitti Helsingin Sanomien esikoiskirjapalkinnon erityisen vahvassa palkintosarjassa. Muun muassa Tommi Kinnusen tyylikäs hitti ”Neljäntienristeys” ja Antti Holman huikea ”Järjestäjä” olivat ehdolla. Näistä kolmesta lukemastani erinomaisesta ehdokkaasta preferoin itse ”Järjestäjää,” mutta Statovci vakuutta myös.
Romaani on perhetarina ja siirtolaiskuvaus, joka kerrotaan kahden hahmon kautta kahdessa ajassa. Nykyajassa nuori Bekim hakee paikkaansa Albanialaissyntyisenä suomalaisena. Koko elämänsä ajan kunnollisuuteen pyrkinyt mies on päätynyt yliopistoon jatkamaan ylisuorittamistaan. Sopeutumisvimman keskellä mieleen vain muistuu liian usein isän varoitus: jos on Suomessa laiskotteleva maahanmuuttajaa, kohtaa vihaa, mutta kantaväestön kanssa samalle tai korkeammalle tasolle pyrkivää maahanmuuttajaa vihataan vielä enemmän vaikkakin epäsuorasti.
Identiteettikriisi ja yliopiston arvoilmapiirin kaksinaamaisuus kuvataan uskottavalla ja konkreettisella realismilla. Bekim raataa, hänellä ei ole ystäviä. Ainoat intiimit ihmiskontaktit ovat nettichatissä kalastettujen miesten tarjoama hetkellinen intohimo. Bekim ei kykene vastaamaan näiden miesten tarjoamaan hellyyteen tai edes hetkelliseen ystävyyteen yksinäisyydestään huolimatta.
Kerronnan realismi kääntyy yllättäen mutta kiitettävän luontevasti maagiseen, kun Bekim tapaa eräänä yönä tutussa homodiskossa kissan. Tanssilattialla hurmaava kissa on ylimielinen, loukkaava, mutta hypnoottisen vangitseva. Bekim vie kissan kotiinsa, mihin lihova eläin jää elämään Bekimin kustannuksella, kaikkea arvostellen ja kumppaniaan alistaen. Bekim jää suhteeseen, kissaa yhä palvoen, mutta ongelmaksi muodostuu Bekimin juuri hankkima lemmikkikäärme, jota kissa inhoaa.
Kiehtova symbolismi kietoutuu yhteen paitsi Bekimin psykologian, myös kirjan toisen päähenkilön tarinan kanssa. Tämä tarina alkaa vuonna 1980 Titon Jugoslaviassa. Kosovossa, jossa nuori Albaanityttö Emine elää vaatimatonta elämää perheen vanhimpana lapsena. Nopea tapaaminen nuoren komean miehen kanssa sitoo tytön järjestettyyn avioliittoon, kuten on tapana. Juuri ennen häitä kulkukissa naukaisee kuin varoittaakseen Emineä tulevasta.
Komeasta miehestä Bajramista kuoriutuu pahoinpitelevä aviomies, lapsia syntyy, ensimmäisenä poika, lukijalle jo tuttu Bekim. Tito kuolee, Albaanien vaino alkaa. Perhe pakenee kaukaiseen Suomeen juuri ennen kuin Balkan puhkeaa sotaan. Pimeässä ja kylmässä pohjoismaassa korkeasti koulutettu Bajram joutuu alistumaan vieroksutun muukalaisen asemaan. Tästä hinnan maksaa koko perhe. Emine vetäytyy syvemmälle itseensä. Nuori Bekim alkaa nähdä toistuvaa painajaista käärmeestä.
Vaikka näkökulma on yksinomaan Eminen ja Bekimin, Bajram piirtyy rivien välistä syvenevänä antagonistina. Hän ei ole demoninen hahmo, vaan ennen kaikkea surullinen ja onneton, omien ennakkoluulojensa ja sodan välillinen uhri. Bajram menettää lapsensa, joista kasvaa vieraassa maassa aivan eri tavalla ajattelevia ihmisiä kuin hän itse. Silti isän kuristava ote tunnetaan vielä tämän jäätyä kaksin hiljennetyn vaimonsa kanssa.
Siirtolaisnarratiiveja on julkaistu Suomessa vielä aika vähän. Sellaisena ”Kissani Jugoslavia” on iskevä, ajatuksia herättävä ja taidokkaasti kirjoitettu. Se peilaa meille omaa yhteiskuntaamme ja kulttuurimme irrationaalisina muille esittäytyviä piirteitä rinnastaen ne tavallaan Bajramin vihantäyteiseen turhautumiseen, joustamattomuuteen ja opittuun naisvihaan.
Romaanin rakenteessa ja proosassa on ehkä hieman hiomattomuutta, mutta kokonaisuus on kuitenkin tyylikkään vangitseva, kaunis ja syvä. Kirjassa on laajan tarinan lisäksi merkittävän maailmankirjallisuuden tuntua jotenkin eri tavalla kuin useimmissa kotimaisissa, kuten eräässä lukija-arviossa luvattiinkin. Harvoin on identiteetin kodittomuutta ja kaipuuta kuvattu näin väkevästi.