cover image Bolla


Pajtim Statovci, trans. from the Finnish by David Hackston. Pantheon, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4920-0

Astounding writing distinguishes this portrait of love, loss, and war from Kosovo-born Finnish writer and National Book Award finalist Statovci (Crossing). The story alternates between the feverish recollections of Miloš and Arsim, whose paths cross briefly but indelibly in 1995 Kosovo, where Miloš, a Serb who is studying medicine, and Arsim, a married Albanian literature student, become lovers. Arsim recounts his disastrous marriage to Ajshe (she is “remarkably beautiful, silent as a drape”) and his doomed affair with Miloš, comparing himself and Miloš to “two birds that have crashed into the window,” and describes how mounting ethnic tensions forced him and his family to flee their home (“We Albanians are washed across the world like a handful of sand scattered into the sea,” he reflects). In nonlinear passages extending to 2004, Miloš riffs on the horrors he encountered during the Balkan wars and reveals his deteriorating mental state. Woven throughout is the myth of the snake-like bolla, a daughter of God who is set free by the devil for a single day a year, conceived by Statovci as a metaphor for the men’s brief but powerful liaison. Statovci sustains a deeply somber tone as the characters struggle to endure while looking back on a sad past of missed opportunity, “exhausted by that speck of freedom.” It’s an eloquent story of desire and displacement, a melancholy symphony in a heartbreaking minor key. Statovci is a master. (July)