Winner of the Finlandia Prize, this novel by the author of Crossing takes place in Kosovo, where Arsim, an Albanian university student, and Milos, a Serb, begin a torrid affair that is interrupted by the outbreak of the 1998 war. Entwined with their story is a re-created legend of a demonic serpent, Bolla, an unearthly tale that gives Arsim and Milos a language through which to reflect on what they once had.
... superb ... Statovci, in Hackston’s eloquent translation, evokes the affair with delicacy and precision ... Likewise, Statovci nails Arsim’s marriage to the tenacious, ultimately indomitable Ajshe, who practices a sort of conjugal aikido, calmly absorbing and assimilating transgressions that ought to estrange her, and are meant to ... surprise follows surprise; none feels willed or fanciful but rather received, as if Statovci is no longer the story’s author but its amanuensis. An occasional surfeit of similes is the prose’s one minor flaw. Bolla is a splendid achievement and Statovci a major talent.
Few authors today write about fear as vividly as Kosovan-born Pajtim Statovci ... Forced by society behind closed doors, their love finds space to breathe in Statovci’s sensitive prose. He writes beautifully about the ecstasy of early passion through surreal, painterly detail ... When Arsim finally decides to seek out Miloš after the war, we suspect there won’t be a storybook ending; Bolla shifts from being a dream-filled anticipation of the future to a taut negotiation of the past. Only in escaping the deadening circuitry of fantasy, suggests Statovci, can we begin to bear reality.