“Was he an actual cat?” That’s the question still swirling round my head two days after finishing reading Pajtim Statovci’s ambitious debut.
Two narrators tell alternate stories; lonely, isolated student Bekim, an uncomfortable immigrant in Finland, and Emine, his mother, who recounts the early days of her marriage to Bekim’s abusive father in 1980s Kosovo. Bekim’s story sees him dismissing his classmates and maintaining a sinister relationship with his pet boa constrictor while Emine’s, which I found far more engaging, gives glimpses into arranged marriage, the Kosovan household, and a woman’s role in each of these.
Vivid description and geographical atmosphere abounds in Emine’s story, but is lacking in Bekim’s, so self-absorbed is he.
The eponymous suavely dressed, homophobic, anti-immigration cat (“But is it, though?”) that Bekim meets in a gay bar has only a fleeting appearance in the story (though it is a short book), yet has a pivotal role in encouraging Bekim on a journey back to Kosovo to understand his past and make sense of his fractured family relationships.
I get the feeling it’s all meant to be symbolic, but of what I’m not quite sure.
Statovci’s influences are easy to spot, as is his eagerness to tell a good story. Perhaps his pen is working quicker than his mind at the moment, but he has the potential to be a master of dream-like, literary impressionism, and I look forward to him reaching his peak.
My Cat Yugoslavia was published by Pantheon Books in April 2017.