cover image Where You Come From

Where You Come From

Saša Stanišic, trans. from the German by Damion Searls. Tin House, $17.95 trade paper (364p) ISBN 978-1-951142-75-9

In this sardonic if uneven novel, Stanišić (How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone) composes a digressive shape-shifting self-portrait with some mesmerizing elements. Bosnian-born novelist Saša , living in Germany, doles out short vignettes of his family’s life in Tito-era Yugoslavia, their post–Balkan War asylum in Germany, and reunions in present-day Bosnia Herzegovina. His grandmother, a steely presence, is the beating heart of the book, and Saša is fascinated by Oskorusa, the small mountainous town where she lived as a young woman. As her dementia worsens, Saša and his parents return to Bosnia to say goodbye and visit Oskorusa. Having lived in Germany since he was a boy, Saša confronts his mixed feelings over his heritage and indulges in his propensity for invention, using fiction to fill in the gaps of “uncompleted sentences, vanished memories.” The wry accounts about his ancestors are highlights, though the novel sags in a long middle section about Saša’s teenage years in Heidelberg, and a choose-your-own-adventure–style conclusion feels a bit gimmicky. Still, the writing often surprises, and the narrator displays a winning ludic spirit in the face of tragedy and dislocation. Though a bit too precious at times, at its best this taps into the mythic energies of the author’s homeland. (Dec.)