Winner of Finland's highest literary honor for a debut novel. Told in two intertwined stories: the first of Bekim, a young gay Kosovar immigrant in Finland and the relationship he strikes up with an abrasive talking cat; the second of his mother and her marriage to an abusive, domineering man.
...a strange, haunting and utterly original exploration of displacement and desire ... I am happy to report that Statovci’s cat manages to mark its own literary turf. Its ostentatiousness and absurdity make Behemoth look comparably stable ... Such a dazzling figure can make other aspects of a narrative seem tame. At certain points, the novel loses some of its wild, wonderful energy. Nuanced interiority gives way to action — sometimes, unnecessarily, in the third person ... Statovci’s literary gifts are prodigious. His sentences are lean and precise. He defies expectation, denies explanation, and excels at the most difficult aspect of storytelling: building a complex humanity for even his most deplorable characters. He does not pretend to offer a journey that every reader will appreciate. But that is part of his magic, and in all the ways that matter, My Cat Yugoslavia is a marvel, a remarkable achievement, and a world apart from anything you are likely to read this year.
...compelling and altogether beautiful debut ... This image of a talking cat within human society is also a way of examining the displacement and denigration that comes with being a Muslim Kosovar refugee in Western society, and a queer person in a culture with certain sexual and gender norms ... Perhaps because this is a literary debut, Statovci’s magical realism and use of symbolism can sometimes come across as heavy-handed...Still, My Cat Yugoslavia is inventive and playful. It tells us a great deal about what it might feel like to be an outcast twice-over, to be at the bottom of the heap not just in one society but two ... My Cat Yugoslavia’s is also elevated by the quality of the writing (aided, to be sure, by David Hackston’s elegant translation from the original Finnish). There is something truly wonderful about a debut novel where the sentences themselves are as beguiling, the metaphors as imaginative, and the eye for detail as sharp as Statovci’s.
My Cat Yugoslavia draws on this compounded experience of exile to tell two parallel stories; it reads as a life reflected by flawed and foggy mirrors ... My Cat Yugoslavia is spry and warm at first, but it hardens, becoming emotionally icier, until Bekim and his mother reach parallel breaking points...This chilliness put me off at first; the novel’s coldness made me feel cold to it. But, as I kept reading, its mood and style began to make sense. The novel is a slowly shattering and re-forming reflection of the protagonists’ corresponding descents into wintry numbness, until, near the end, they begin to revive, and to love ... Statovci’s surreal, arresting novel suggests that we must look anyway, and that love and identity have many reflections, many destinies, many languages. Sometimes, a broken mirror reflects something truer—as does the kind of love, drawn from the deepest sunken places, that tries to put it back together.