Crossing

Pajtim Statovci, trans. from the Finnish by David Hackston. Pantheon, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4749-7

Two young Albanian men yearn to escape their fractured country in this disorienting but affecting novel from Statovci (My Cat Yugoslavia). Fourteen-year-old Bujar struggles to cope with his father’s death in 1990, just as Albania lurches toward capitalism in the aftermath of communist leader Enver Hoxha’s death. With his mother incapacitated by grief, Bujar and his best friend Agim, who is tentatively exploring his gender identity, decide to earn money any way possible in order to fund their dream of seeking asylum in Western Europe. They sell stolen cigarettes in the capital, Tirana, and then tourist trinkets in the port of Durrës. Their story of escape blends with the Albanian myths Bujar’s father told and appears in between stories about the dizzyingly fabricated identities one of them takes on during a series of moves to Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United States. A final move to Finland in 2003 sets the stage for the deep betrayal of a new love interest and the shocking conclusion that explains why the two boys are no longer together. The matter-of-fact depiction of numerous traumas intensifies the impact. Statovci memorably portrays the struggles and dislocations of his complicated characters. (Apr.)