A writer and raconteur chronicles her life growing up in the former-Yugoslavian immigrant subculture of 1990s Australia.
Stefanovic (You're Just Too Good to Be True, 2015), the host of the literary salon Women of Letters New York, uses the eponymous pageant to introduce the “ex-Yugos,” immigrants from the former Yugoslavia who found refuge in Australia from the brutal wars of the Slobodan Miloševi? regime. The author’s adolescence coincided with the dissolution of her country. Her parents, anti-Miloševi? activists and members of an urban intellectual elite, sensed the coming storm and moved their family abroad to secure citizenship and hence an escape route from the impending conflicts. Stefanovic recounts her youth, from earliest memories of life in Serbia to a few formative years spent bouncing between Melbourne and Belgrade and finally back to Australia for good, where she joined the growing Serbian-Australian population forced to watch TV news snippets of their home country imploding. The author effectively explains how, despite her proud ambivalence, she came to embrace “ex-Yugo” culture so thoroughly that she agreed to compete in a gaudy local beauty pageant to represent it. Living between two cultures added fuel to the already blazing fires of adolescent awkwardness, and Stefanovic tends to deprecate rather than sympathize with her past self, whom she casts as pathetic and attention-seeking. Yet being an outsider sharpened her powers of observation and improved her gifts for language, setting her on the path toward a career as a storytelling performer. Eventually, Stefanovic found her way to activism through writing. Her quirky, poignant, relatable anecdotes offer a nuanced and unflinching portrait of lived experience, rejecting the media’s oversimplified accounts of the Yugoslavian wars and helping to break down the monolithic labels applied to refugees from those wars, especially Serbians. Her stories show the ways in which war warps the lives of generations, even those who never witness violence firsthand.
A fresh and timely perspective on the immigrant experience—required reading for fans of Stefanovic and a strong inducement for newcomers to explore the rest of her work.