Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: Shards by Ismet Prcic

The author is a Bosnian-American. As we read in his website he used to be just a Bosnian, but then he learned some English and they gave him a piece of paper that said that he now was an American. However, if we are to judge from Shards that comes out next week in the US, we’d say that he truly and simply is a writer from the Balkans, since in this he talks about all the big issues facing the region: the civil wars and the refugees, immigration and religion, which tends to bring people apart instead of together.
     His narration moves in a handful of parallel levels and takes the reader on a time travelling journey, in order to make him understand in a unique way how his story, or rather history works.
     The main characters are only two: Ismet and Mustafa. But does Mustafa really exist or is he just a fabrication, someone created in the imagination of Ismet? Well, according to the story he does exist, but bits and pieces of evidence we encounter once in a while seem to indicate the opposite, or rather that he’s just the alter ego of the narrator. Ismet has never been to war, has never fought, while Mustafa has; Ismet has travelled abroad, while Mustafa has not; Ismet is alive, while Mustafa is dead. Or is he now?
     The author by creating a complicated plot he seems to play with the reader and with time, to abolish boundaries, to built certainties just to bring them crashing down, and to say that everything is possible, even that which is most improbable. His two heroes seem to complement each other, to subconsciously bring their beings together in order to create the ideal, under the dire circumstances, man; a man that loves a lot and hates just as much; that struggles and who runs away scared; that dreams of a beautiful life but constantly flirts with death.
     The tribal and religious zealotries, the crooked politicians, the endless corruption and the non-stop cheating, but also true love, are some of the big issues that are talked about here. Using black humor as his vehicle the author throws his heroes into extreme and extremely hilarious situations, he hits and caresses them, he indicates for them the way they need to follow before tripping them up. It seems that what he’s silently trying to convey is that at the end of the day nothing is up to them. Some of them do manage to survive and build better lives for themselves; most though don’t, and thus they end up perishing under the ruins of war and the memories of a long gone past.  However, even those who do survive don’t really make a clean run out of their past since wherever they go they always carry along with them their ghosts, whether these are successful or failed love affairs, whether they are some personal guilts or even their inability to enjoy life without the help of various substances.
     Everybody coming out of a war is a loser, no matter what. “It had begun with politicians fighting on television,” Ismet says, and before too long the former friends started turning on each other and the reality of people of different origins living happily together proved in the end to be nothing but an illusion.
     The author manages to construct, with the help of diary clippings, memories and oral accounts, the mosaic of some shattered lives, of people sacrificed on the altar of the insanity of war. Through this fluid and every now and then poetic narrative the reader comes to find out some things about the history of certain peoples, about borders and countries created by blood.
     This is one of the best novels I have read this year so far, and I did read a lot. Highly recommended.

No comments: