Call Me Esteban

Lejla Kalamujić, trans. from the Croatian by Jennifer Zoble. Sandorf Passage, $14.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-9-53351-324-9
This poignant and kaleidoscopic debut collection from Kalamujić conveys a young woman’s adolescence—also named Lejla—in Sarajevo during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Lejla loses her mother when she is two, and is raised by her grandparents while her father drinks to drown his sorrow. When the war begins, Lejla leaves Sarajevo for the country, but then returns to the city to live with her father’s parents. Lejla describes the mingled pleasures and pains of a motherless, war-scarred childhood, like working at a bakery in “White Desert” and watching the birds her father raised in “Waiting for the Pigeons.” Clever devices such as an imagined exchange with Franz Kafka at age 14 about the whims of the “bad guys” explore the absurdity of the war, and an older Lejla struggles with mental health and her queerness. Kalamujić offers memorable images (an owl has “dense, black eyes where, instead of pupils, there floated yellowish dots, like stars cast out of a constellation”) and creates sympathetic characters in a few strokes. Meanwhile, her narrator’s emotional landscape and the landscape of the country are intimately connected and vividly described. Stylish and brisk, these stories refuse to wallow in tragedy, becoming instead a convincing testament to the consolations of art. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 07/01/2021
Release date: 09/28/2021
Genre: Fiction
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