'Kun koulussa puhuttiin islaminuskosta, diktatuureista tai vieraista kielistä, painoin pääni aina alas, sillä tunsin miten kaikki kääntyivät katsomaan minua. Ja kun he pyysivät minua puhumaan äidinkieltäni, jotkut heistä sanoivat ääneen, miten harmi on ettei sen osaamisesta ole mitään hyötyä täällä. Ja ollessani myöhässä kuulin usein, että sinunkin olisi jo korkea aika oppia, ettei tämä ole mikään kehitysmaa. On lottovoitto asua Suomessa ja käydä täällä koulua, muista se.'
'When in school we talked about islam, dictators or foreign languages, I always pressed my head down, because I felt how everyone turned to look at me. And when they asked me to speak my native language, some of them said out loud, what a shame it is that there's no use to knowing it here. And when I was late I often heard that it would be about time you learned too that this is no third world country. It's like winning a lottery to live in Finland and study here, remember that.'
I got this book from my sister, who had somehow accumulated two copies of it. Kissani Jugoslavia ('My Cat Yugoslavia') is written by Pajtim Statovci, who left Kosovo in 1992, at two years old, and moved to Finland. So obviously writing a book as intricate as this, one that sharply contrasts the war-torn Yugoslavia and Finland, where we say it's like winning the lottery to be Finnish, is very commendable. The book also won the Helsingin Sanomat (the biggest newspaper in Finland) Literature Prize for a Best Debut in 2014. So naturally it's been one of those forever-tbr books of mine ever since.
The main character, Bekim, is studying at Helsinki University and had thought that for him it would be a way to be happy and make friends and find his place in the world. However, it's clear to him that amazing, life-changing opportunities don't come to people like him, people who are considered to be lesser than others and in the wrong place and the wrong colour. He faces racism to the point where he starts to shut himself from the world and prefers the company a king boa and a cat he meets in a gay club. Like the author, he too has left Kosovo at a young age.
There's also an intertwining story of his mother, Emine, decades prior, when she is a school girl who gives her name to a strange man who asks for it. He ends up searching the whole village for her, and they get married. I often preferred these parts of the book, for they 'made sense' and provided an interesting look into the life in Kosovo before the war and the destruction. Sometimes I'd have to google a fact even though I trusted the author immensely in talking about his own country. It all seemed very accurate and well-thought. Emine's story doesn't have a feminist awakening where she becomes the queen of her own existence, but she does have growth, and it was pleasant to follow even when the story itself was everything but pleasant.
While we say that you're so lucky to living in Finland, I know it's not easy, especially when your language and skin colour and name and customs are considered intimidating. Of course I loathe it and I hate to even admit it, but I suppose admittance is a way to fixing matters. I wish we could have this two-sided dialogue going on, so that we could meet each other as a people. I want my country to be a place where it's safe to come in a world where nothing seems too safe these days.
The following quote I picked because I've been low-key feeling it ever since the Brexit referendum. It's one of the most dangerous ways of thinking, 'it's not you but those other immigrants'. Of course, coming from Bekim, who left his war-ridden country not due to choice, it's different. It's also different because no matter what he does, he'll never be white enough or local enough. At least people like me can fake it 'til we make it, more or less. It still makes me sad.
'He kysyivät sitä minultakin. Milloin maahanmuuttajien laiskottelu loppuu, milloin loppuu sosiaalijärjestelmään kuseminen, milloin tuo vastenmielinen makoilu ja naisten härnääminen. 'Toki ymmärrän, etteivät kaikki ole samanlaisia, esimerkiksi sinä, sinä olet poikkeus ja tuollaisia me ottaisimme tonne varmasti lisääkin, mutta suurin osa.''
'They asked it from me as well. When are immigrants going to stop being lazy, when ends the pissing on the social security system, when that repulsive laying around and teasing of women. 'Of course I understand that not all are the same, you for an example, you are an exception and we'd surely take more like you here, but most of them.''
Anyway, I do have criticism too, one burning one that really hindered my enjoyment. Namely, Bekim's part was weird and I never really 'got it'. He had a cat and a snake and he was clearly conflicted and he didn't even like either of the animals but he liked them anyway, and the cat was so rude and still he needed it. He didn't have much growth during the story and if he did, then I didn't understand that either. I'm probably trying to understand too much something that isn't supposed to be understood, but I've never been too keen on overly poetic and 'weird' books.
Regardless, the writing was very beautiful and the skill was unquestionable. I've never really read about Finland from the refugee point of view even though I think about it a lot. I'll give this a 3.5 rounded up since I can't really give it a three. The author's second book, Tiranan sedan ('The Heart of Tirana') came out last year and I hear it's even better than this. I'll have to give it a go. The covers match so I need it on my shelf.
Also, for the Helmet 2017 reading challenge I put this in category 38: There is a wedding in the book!