Kosovo-born Finnish novelist Statovci (My Cat Yugoslavia, 2017) returns with a beguiling story that proves the old adage about not being able to go home again—if one has a home at all.
“I am a man who cannot be a woman but who can sometimes look like a woman.” So says 22-year-old Bujar, who, it seems, can be anything he wishes to be, of any age and gender, any guise, supported by whatever story he can spin. Even though in his new life in Rome he takes pains to disguise his Albanian origins, he carries stories from his late father about his ancestral nation and the deeds of heroes whose hearts reside “in the breast of the black two-headed eagle on the flag.” Bujar lives as if he is alone, but with him is his childhood friend Agim, “a year older than me but much smaller,” who is smart and soulful and who adds to Bujar’s father’s stock of stories with other tales, such as the curious one about a farm governed by the animals there: “Imagine, Bujar, the animals form a totalitarian society." Bujar and Agim, heroes in their own way, are a shade too young to remember the most terrible excesses of totalitarianism in their homeland, but now, away, they are free to do as they wish—but not really, because sexual violence at the hands of brutish men is always a danger everywhere they travel, and in any event they’re despised for their foreignness, even if, as Bujar says, “Everybody around us wanted to be European, to belong to the European family, to stand on the other side of the invisible but insurmountable fence where people were people, at the forefront of humanity.” Marginalized in several dimensions, Bujar and Agim struggle to find their identities as well as a hint of the happiness that, as events unfold, seems ever more elusive.
A centrifugal story told with great sensitivity and empathy, highlighting Statovci’s development as a leading voice in modern European literature.