In this autofictional winner of the German Book Prize, a man looks back on his family's escape to Germany during the 1990s war in Yugoslavia, exploring questions about language and shame, arrival and making it just in time, luck and death and the role our origins and memories play in our lives.
... a wry, inventive and ultimately devastating attempt to recover a personal history that war has put forever out of reach ... Rather than trying to weave these stories into a coherent account, Stanisic jumbles genres to reflect how compromised memory is. Where You Come From has its share of quirky, half-true anecdotes of the kind one expects from a memoir ... But Stanisic’s lightness only makes tragedy more devastating when it comes ... Damion Searls’s translation does justice to Stanisic’s dry wit and linguistic playfulness, and captures the tense undercurrents building throughout the book. Though shot through with trauma, Where You Come From is also funny and moving ... Ordinary and accidental, this is the quiet beauty of immigrant life.
Weaving autofiction, myth-making, and yes, even a little bit of choose-your-own-adventure, Stanišić paints a beautiful and fragmented picture of what it means to belong when your home and language have been lost to you ... Stanišić is able to write with such aching beauty, to convey such rare intimacy in his lines. ... not stuck in the past; this trauma’s roots run deep, and couldn’t be contained there ... It may seem odd, closing a book with such trauma on a section as playful and experimental as this, and yet it feels completely fitting. Much of Where You Come From deals with Stanišić recalling and remaking the myth of the Stanišić family, and his life, and so it seems completely fitting to carry it beyond the present, all the threads spread in front of you, waiting to grasp at whichever strikes your fancy ... a deeply beautiful book, painfully so at times, on the ties that bind us: home, family, story, language. He recounts triumphs and loss, myths made, myths forgotten, and myths in the making. More than one section made me tear up, and even more made me chuckle. It’s a rich tapestry whose embrace shows us a little more about the world, and a little more about ourselves.
Stanisic’s fragmented style effectively mirrors the book’s subject matter. Knowledge is gained piecemeal, drip-fed through Stanisic’s kaleidoscopic prose. He recounts anecdotes, memories and biographical details in simple, matter-of-fact sentences. Sometimes he resorts to lists, WhatsApp conversations, passing observations in the way that memory, too, unfolds in disconnected images and incomplete narratives. Stanisic is a versatile writer and moments of acerbic wit—which recall the razor-sharp commentary of fellow Yugoslav-born author Dubravka Ugresic—are interspersed with poignant descriptions of unbelonging in Germany ... A final act of multiple endings affirms that our lives can never be neatly packaged: reality’s edges are too frayed. A more structurally straightforward finale might have offered something more; the book already does enough to imply that futures are slippery and contingent, more influenced by immigration officers than personal agency. Where Stanisic succeeds is in inviting us to honour and acknowledge what Roland Barthes called the 'what has been', the uncanny evidence of our past; there, we might be able to save our stories from being swept away by the current.