A second bleak and shadowy saga from Frederick (Country of Memory, 1998) centers on a trio of exiles from a land torn by civil war—a bloodbath known as the Thirteen Days—as they struggle to find their bearings far from home.
Adapting to their new environment isn’t terribly hard for Vaniok and Ila, fellow travelers from the homeland who’ve arrived separately in the large university town where they live, work—and remember. Having conquered the difficulties of language, the spirited Vaniok finds acceptance among his maintenance coworkers by imitating their basketball fervor, while the more pragmatic Ila takes her own route to self-sufficiency by buying a car. For the newer arrival Jory, however, who enters their lives with a jar of soil from the homeland and secrets from his past, the gentle spring and peaceful streets are bitter, intolerable reminders of what he’s left behind. His brooding brings it all back for his countrymen: Ila’s near-escape from bayonet-wielding soldiers while hiding under straw; Vaniok’s long night waiting in ambush for a police car by the side of a bridge, and, before that, the act of cowardice that saved his life. In the months that follow, Vaniok watches in dismay as Jory, now a coworker, draws Ila to him, while his own aloofness on the job earns him the enmity of his crew boss. But Jory’s despair at being in exile comes before all, and not even Ila’s charms can make him loosen his grip on his memories. The other two make plans to settle in their adopted homeland, but Jory, alarmed by the prospect that his boss is spying on him, erupts in anger and decides to flee.
Focused sharply on those for whom personal and national identity have become traumatically entwined—and focused especially on their turbulent inner lives—Frederick’s tale is as inexorable and engrossing as a recurring nightmare.