THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA: Growing Up Foreign in the Back Yards of Eden by Ted Pejovich

THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA: Growing Up Foreign in the Back Yards of Eden

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Pejovich's first book is less a reminiscence of growing up in the Golden State than an exercise in literary obscurantism--a curious blend of Saroyanesque nostalgia and Gertrude Stein-like prose. The child of Serbian immigrants who settled in California's Santa Clara Valley, Pejovich tells of the trials, major and minor, of prepubescent life in what seems to be the 1950's (the period of the action is as obscure as some of the Serbian locutions of the characters). Among the difficulties the author details are a mother who has apparently been hospitalized for mental illness for a number of years, and a termagant aunt who runs the household with a combination of sadistic outbursts and whining self-pity. Pejovich opens his narrative, however, with a highly convoluted description of his and his wife's attempts to discover his family's ancestral village in the mountains of Montenegro. This is followed by a selection of Yugoslavian aphorisms--""Let the snake drink at your eyes""; ""Let your gun explode""--that then shifts to the quasi-naive viewpoint of the child-narrator. Such household activities as waxing the kitchen floor, playing with imaginary companions, making trips to the local delicatessen are recounted with mind-numbing thoroughness; but for all of this detail, there is little sense of place--an occasional reference to pepper trees, a brief description of the Golden Gate Bridge. Nor is there much sense of the interplay between the ""foreign"" characters and the society in which they find themselves. Still, it's the mannerist prose here that's the most alienating element in Pejovich's work. His sentences do not so much run on as careen out of control; and by never allowing his audience to forget his style, Pejovich places an insuperable barrier between his readers and the events of his childhood.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1989
Publisher: Knopf