In this review, I bring you another book I bought on my latest trip back to Serbia:’Uhvati Zeca’ by Lana Bastasic. Just like last week’s review, I read this book in Serbian (next week’s book will be in English, I promise) and once again, the book struck me to the core emotionally. I have heard about Lana Bastasic some time ago, but her recently winning the European Union Prize for Literature brought her work back into my radar. When it comes to ‘Uhvati Zeca’, all I knew before reading it was that it was the story about two friends who meet again after years of separation. Considering that it is set in Bosnia, I also assumed that the war of the 90s and its consequences would be a prominent feature. What I did not expect was just how emotional I will feel after reading it.
Our narrator is Sara, a Serbian girl from Bosnia who moved to Ireland and supposedly started her life again. Seemingly, she has a perfect life, with a nice flat, boyfriend that treats her well and is financially relatively secure. Her peaceful life is interupted by a call from Leyla (or Lela), her childhood friend telling her that Armin is in Vienna. This invitation unravels her perfect life at the seams, forcing Sara to deal with everything that Ireland allowed her to forget and push back. I would not say that Sara is a completely unreliable narrator, but the fact she is active participants in the story she is telling us signals that everything she says must be taken with a huge grain of salt. Sara is directly speaking to Leyla and it is clear that this is Sara’s way to make peace with her past. At the end of the day, this is her story and as she says she has the right to tell it in her own way. Probably the most compelling and interesting aspect of the story that Bastasic was praised for is the friendship between Sara and Lejla. It is a complex, contradictory, messy and extremely painful relationship between two equally complex girls and narrative techniques employed definitely contribute to it.
My mom started reading this book a bit before me and her first impression was about the writing style. She described it as enjoyable and easy to follow and I completely agree. Bastasic’s sentences are descriptive and filled with effective comparissons and stylistic figures. It is easy to read this narration, but it does require you to be a careful reader as a lot of meaning is hidden between the lines. The language is quite lyrical, but not at all pretencious. The structure of the novel in which each chapter is divided into two parts, one depicting present events and the other returning us to the past also contributes to formation of characters of Sara and Leyla. It is also effective as it shows how past events influenced those we are dealing with it narration.
This is a book is about the friendship between two vastly different girls in a country torn by a civil war. I have not read Elena Ferrante’s tetralogy on the same topic that I have seen many critics compare ‘Uhvati Zeca’ to, so I cannot say if I agree with that. However, I can say that Sara and Leyla function more than just simple characters. In Leyla, a girl that has lost her father and her brother, Bastasic showed us consequences of the war in just one’s person’s microcosmos. At first, Sara’s depiction of Leyla showed her as very straight forward and almost brutal at times, quite different from sensitive and timid Sara. To be honest, I found her quite frustrating and unlikable, but as novel progresses and readers learn more about her, Leyla’s behaviour becomes more understandable. It it also obvious that Sara’s frustration and pain of shared memories influenced how we perceive her. The fact that she and her brother had to change their names to sound non-muslim and shed parts of their identity to survive at all is also a strong moment that amplifies her suffering. A strong shifting moment for me was Leyla explaining to Sara that she did not have the same choices as her, furthering her suffering as she could not leave Bosnia like Sara did. At the end, I thought that it would be interesting to read this story from her perspective and see how much would it differ from Sara’s narration. What did you think about Leyla’s character? Specifically, what did you think about the metaphor of her name changing?
On the other hand, besides two main characters who do feel like people you can come across even you go to Bosnia, most of side characters are not really developed. But, just like with Bekim Serjanovic’s book ‘Tvoj Sin, Huckleberry Finn’, I did not mind this too much. It seems like they are puposefuly placed there to bring even more attention to the reasons protagonists’ friendship ended for so long. Armin, Leyla’s brother, serves as a catalyst to the story’s narrative and is deeply connected to the main metaphor of the story-rabbit. The fact he is seen only through Sara’s platonic love and almost sense of shame of her feelings makes him into a very powerful memory that protagonists have to come to terms with. On the other hand, probably the greatest criticism of the book is the character of Sara’s mother. Although it is clear that her mother wanted her to be very feminine, the grotesque figure of her morbidly obese mother that she almost spies on years later came across as very simplistic and without a lot of depth.
There is a lot of intertextionality in the novel. The most obvious one is Alice in Wonderland, seen in the strong metaphor of a rabbit that is consistently present throughout the novel. For me, it was very effective as there was a constant reminder of why this symbol is so important for their lives and friendship. This also makes the ending of the novel heartbreaking. Without spoiling the end too much if you hadn’t read it, it is probably not what you expected. When I first read the novel, the ending was dissapointing for me and felt rushed. However, when I took a bit of time to think about it, I changed my mind. In reality, I feel like changing the ending to a happier ending and happy resolve would really diminish the suffering and the pain that Leyla went through in her life. There was no deus ex machina moment or a great ‘aha’ moment but rather a realization of the immense pain Leyla and people like her must have felt. What are your thoughts on the ending? Do you agree or do you think it is dissapointing?
At the end, I would recommend this book to anyone. The style is very enjoyable, protagonists are incredibly engaging and the story is compelling and quite frankly heart breaking. ‘Uhvati Zeca’ is translated to many different European languages so if you are able to find translation in one of those languages, I am sure that you will enjoy Bastasic’s narrative immensely. This is Lana Bastasic’s debut novel and I am excited to read more of her writing. I will surely keep my eye out on her work.
Did you read this book? What did you think about it? As usual, if you feel like I have missed something important about this book, please let me know.