Second-novelist Radojcic (Homecoming, 2002) returns with a bleakly uplifting, well-wrought tale of a troubled, rebellious Yugoslav teenager’s determination to find somewhere she fits in.
Sasha, barely 15, keeps running away from her Belgrade home. She wants a better life than that of her sickly, impoverished mother, who married a half-Gypsy charmer, then left him after realizing he hadn’t told the whole story about himself. Young, gutsy Sasha is already resolved to become a writer and go to America, but her good communist Muslim relatives have other ideas. When she’s caught skipping school and sleeping around, they send Sasha to live with her distinguished uncle Malik, who has been appointed ambassador to Cuba. Living for a few months on the island is a sensuous journey, as she eats exotic fruits and watches her beautiful, pale mother dance with Fidel Castro. But then Sasha is caught with a chocolate-skinned boyfriend and exiled again, this time to the mountains of western Bosnia, where her senile grandmother lives with her many half-witted, superstitious cousins. “Please be good,” her mother urges; Sasha replies, “I want to but I don’t know how.” Disaster ensues once more: Mom is slowly dying of cancer, and unhappy, unwanted Sasha ends up in the sweaty grasp of a provincial policeman in return for not going to jail. The scandal of the “polluted little half-Serbian whore” continues when Sasha goes to live with her playboy father in Greece, where she joins a crowd of drug pushers and drops out completely. Through sheer grit, she eventually arrives in America and lands a job at the Pink Pussy Cat boutique. Along the way, the author’s beautifully restrained and composed prose has a tactile feel, and Sasha’s compelling first-person narration boosts the story above the usual sorry tale of juvenile drug-induced delinquency.
Rags to riches, Slavic style.