Pantheon. Jul. 2021. 240p. tr. from Finnish by David Hackston. ISBN 9781524749200. $26. F
Set primarily in the city of Pristina, Kosovo, this novel portrays the passionate love affair between Miloš, a Serb who is studying medicine, and Arsim, an Albanian literature student at the university who has just learned that his new wife is pregnant. With tensions between Serbs and Albanians escalating and homophobia rampant, they must keep their affair hidden. The narrative moves from 1995 to 2004, alternating between the two characters; Arsim and his family finally flee Kosovo and resettle as refugees in an unnamed city, while Miloš goes to the front to tend to the wounded when the Kosovo War breaks out. Suffering from PTSD, Arsim indulges in risky and abusive behavior and is deported without his family to Pristina, while Miloš’s mental state deteriorates so markedly that he can no longer function. Interwoven throughout the novel is a version of the Albanian myth of the snake Bolla, the daughter of God, who is freed by the Devil once a year on Saint George’s Day.
VERDICT Winner of the Finlandia Prize, this novel by the Kosovo-born Finnish author Statovci (Crossing) vividly describes the devastating effects of war. A harrowing and breathtaking book about abandonment, cruelty, and desire.
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