From the back of the book:
Mahmutovic's writing is lucid and beautiful. Told in the first person voice of a young woman coming of age as her country falls into war and hatred, the deceptively simple narrative takes the reader on a journey across landscape, political boundaries, assumptions and emotions. The impact is powerful and evocative, the voices authentic, speaking for themselves free of heavy handed authorial intrusion.
Full of poignancy without a hint of self-pity; truth without a hint of preaching, the novella is a gripping read, a challenging page turner that will establish Mahmutovic as one of the leading writers of his generation.
Adnan Mahmutovic was born in 1974 in Banja Luka, northern Bosnia and moved to Sweden as a refugee in 1993. He lives in Stockholm, where he is finishing a PhD in English literature. Adnan worked as a personal aid to a man in a wheelchair for 11 years. After his friend died, he took the position on of a manager for a group of 10 people who take care of a teenager with special needs. He describes himself as "a Bosnian exile in beautiful and calm Sweden, the land whose naked north glistens with green Northern Lights".
The novel begins with Fatima, the protagonist, a handcuffed prostitute in a Berlin cellar. Quite a way to grab the reader. Fatima is Muslim, a pragmatic teenager whose coming of age story of survival is told without sentimentality or judgement. No small feat.
Kirkus review, I think, said it best, and I'll quote the review here:
Fatima Begovic is a bright, inquisitive, feisty teen, fond of Jane Austen novels—“bitter stories about a kind of high-class peasantry,” as her English tutor glosses them—and Beverly Hills 90210. Growing up in a small town in Bosnia in the early ’90s, she wants nothing more than a normal life, but neither fate nor her heart’s promptings seem likely to grant it. She falls in love with a peasant named Aziz, but his lack of prospects, and certain other rumored oddities, make him a poor match in the eyes of her parents. Then there’s the gathering storm of the Yugoslavian civil war, which starts with a new requirement that Fatima register as a Muslim, proceeds through taunts and threats from local toughs and escalates to drive-by shootings and worse at the hands of Serbian militias. Fatima’s father seems paralyzed by the danger, while her mother vents her anxiety with compulsive cleaning binges, and Fatima and Aziz make the wrenching decision to leave. But while Fatima finds safety of a sort, the poverty and anomie of refugee life forces her and Aziz to follow desperate new paths. Mahmutovic, himself a Bosnian refugee, paints a raw, intimate portrait of Bosnian village life and of the seething ethnic tensions that tore it apart. He writes prose that’s sometimes subtle and delicate—“she gave the impression of a half-asleep fox from Russian stories, sly and ready to bite even when she looked tame and kind”—and sometimes sensuous and earthy, words that manage to be both psychologically acute and lyrical. Fatima’s longing for a life of warmth and vibrancy as her reality grows cold and desolate makes for an imaginative rendering of the damage wrought by racism and war.
A fine, moving debut from a talented writer.
I had the pleasure of meeting Adnan last year at a literary conference, and not only is he a talented man, but he's a lovely person as well. I look forward to more of his work.