The cat walks by himself. He is beautifully presented, and can be utterly charming – or utterly not. He accepts loyal and attentive service, but gives nothing in return, and leaves when he is ready.
The comparisons to Bulgakov seem obvious, or are we nearer to Kafka country? The snake is shy at first, but gradually makes himself at home, gradually coiling closer and closer, until he is perhaps too close to uncoil at all.
The young man who welcomes both animals into his home, like the author of this book, was born in Kosovo, but moved to Helsinki at a very young age. He writes in Finnish, he is Finnish, but that’s not necessarily how others see him. His insight into the refugee experience and everyday racism is painfully sharp. The reality of intergenerational tensions is harsh, but the queer perspective is beautiful. Love can blossom in the most unlikely places.
The young man’s story is interwoven with that of a young woman growing up where he came from from. We meet her father first.
This book achieved a great deal in a very short space of time. Pajtim Statovci’s Kissani Yugoslavia won the best debut novel award from the main Finnish daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, in 2014. David Hackston’s English translation, My Cat Yugoslavia, is now up for for the Dublin Literary Award. Statovci’s second novel, Tiranan sydän/The Heart of Tirana has also been bought by Pushkin Press. I’m looking forward to reading it next.