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My Cat Yugoslavia
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Monthly Discussions > May 2017 - My Cat Yugoslavia

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message 1: by Erin (last edited May 30, 2017 02:17PM) (new)

Erin | 6 comments Mod
Thank you to those who joined us for the discussion of My Cat Yugoslavia! We'd love to hear more about what everyone thought of the book here. As always, feel free to answer any of these questions, ask your own, or share any thoughts about the book in general.

1. What do you think the title means, and what is the connection between the cat and Yugoslavia?

2. Are there parallels between the mother's story and her son's story?

3. What do the animals in the story symbolize?

4. Are there two different cats in the story, or just one?

5. What is the relationship between the first chapter and the rest of the book?

6. What themes did you notice throughout the book?

7. How does the opening quote from Ivo Andric's Bridge on the Drina relate to the story?


Michael Rieman | 3 comments questions 3 and 4.
I think the snake is connected with Bekim's fears. He feared snakes, but needed to overcome that fear by first capturing the snake (in the bag), then throwing it at the merchant in the town he had lived in as a boy. In his Finnish life, he took care of the snake, again fighting fear through satisfying the snake's needs. But as the snake became more assertive ( a potential killer? a dangerous lover?) he attacked it, as he might have wished to do to his father.
The cat seems to represent a desire to offer love and to be loved, but there are certainly mixed results there. The cat Bekim finds does run off; the "cat" Bekim picks up in the bar is abusive, and ultimately must be ejected, though Bekim is in conflict about that relationship. I think there is just the one actual cat in Bekim' s narrative, though there is also one in Emine's.


message 3: by Erin (new)

Erin | 6 comments Mod
Hi Michael! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the cat and snake, they're very insightful. Bekim brings the snake into his life in an attempt to resolve some deep-seated fears, and I think the connection you draw between that and his feelings about his father is really interesting. By the end, do you think the snake helped Bekim work through some fears the way he had hoped it would?

Similar to his approach to the snake, Bekim seems to have some pretty clear goals when it comes to bringing the cat into his life, as you note - to offer love and to be loved. I like that you've described Bekim's relationship with the cat as conflicted, which I think is a great way to put it.

To connect this back to the book's title, I'm curious whether this relationship with the cat shares some parallels with his relationship to Yugoslavia.


Michael Rieman | 3 comments Hi Erin. Thanks for your comments and questions.
I think the snake did help Bekim to work through some fears, but there is still a question about the result of that relationship. Didn't he ultimately kill the snake? That would be a kind of violent resolution I think. The snake had curled around him in bed, and was at that point a danger to his life whether in a physical sense or perhaps as a "jealous lover" who would crush his spirit. I'm not sure which it is, but I do think he could not go forward in his life if the boa began to dominate it.
Yes, there probably are parallels between his feelings about the cat and his attitudes toward Yugoslavia. When he returned to Yugoslavia he needed to visit his old town, but could not bring himself to make the kind of "homecoming" we usually associate with visiting a former home. He found and lost a cat. Love and loss continue to be factors in his life, as he both "finds" and "loses" men, searching for the way to find a love which he can embrace without a loss of the person he has become, a Finnish man who no longer need to abandon his roots or feel the need to escape them.


message 5: by Erin (last edited Jun 05, 2017 12:51PM) (new)

Erin | 6 comments Mod
Hi Michael, I really enjoy your description of this back and forth between love and loss as an ongoing theme for Bekim. I think part of that is who he's choosing to bring into his life. The snake is a predator, the cat is cruel, and he takes them in knowing these things about them. I would agree that they help him work through some things, but the nature of the animals also signals to me that a happy resolution for those relationships was probably unlikely from the beginning.

Your observation of the pattern of "finding" and "losing" is great. It really does flow through the entire story, perhaps even beginning with the short-lived relationship in the very first chapter.


Joyous Song Little Leaf (lestock) | 1 comments So glad to read some thoughts of others on this book, which I really enjoyed. 1. I thought the title inferred that cats symbolize Yugoslavia - they represent ancestral home, safety, familiarity, culture. 2. In the case of Bekim's lover cat, that culture is harsh, judgmental, patriarchal, like village life in Kosovo. Emine's decision to adopt a kitten is related to her love of her culture because it is hers, not because it helped her flourish: she knows she is meant to be a wife, leave home, put up with abuse...yet she loves her culture. The kitten at the end of the novel reperesents her heritage and plans to not lose touch with her roots. The stray cat? Bekim gives it love, but unlike his mother he does not intend to stay connected to it or his Kosovar culture, and thus loses it. As to snakes - yeesh some of it was hard to read because I am afraid of them! I thought perhaps the snakes symbolized his father, maybe even male culture in rural Kosovo - Bekim wants to love his father but he is afraid of him, does not like when his mother is beaten by him. He tries to love the boa, who does seem to love him back. But boas have killing instincts, sort of like his father's violent nature. The snake in the bag....yikes that was scariest of all to read. (Author's descriptive abilities are terrific!) Bekim throws it not at his father, but another patriarchal figure=his grandfather, a representative Kosovar male 6. Themes. Alienation and loneliness, tradition vs. modernity, obstacles to multiculturalism, acceptance (or lack) of "differences" in looks, sexuality, language, behavior.


Michael Rieman | 3 comments A really interesting connection of the text with the narrator's possible connections--or broken connections--with Yugoslavia


message 8: by Erin (new)

Erin | 6 comments Mod
Hi Carol, thank you for sharing your thoughts! Very beautifully said. I personally really enjoyed the different and changing appearances of cats throughout the book, and you draw an interesting connection to the nature of the relationships the characters have with Yugoslavia. You've noticed a lot of great themes running through the book! Thank you for sharing.


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