Friday, June 27, 2014

Shelf Life [adult]

Little Bastards in SpringtimeLittle Bastards in Springtime by Katja Rudolph
Don’t be put off by the title of this new novel: it’s important to the story. It focuses on the experience of a young boy who lives through the Siege of Sarajevo, and then moves to Toronto. There he finds a group of  teens from the former Yugoslavia, forming a gang called the Little Bastards, because their war was all about ethnicity, and they are all mixed-up bits of each – and had to face the danger of being “bastards” in Sarajevo.
The book investigates the effects of violence on people of different ages and situations. How does the experience of living in a war zone shape our main character Jevrem? What part does PTSD play in the assimilation of new immigrants from war zones?

The matter-of-fact narrative of war in the former Yugoslavia was eye-opening. It isn't bitter or didactic -- it is absolutely full of energy, of the voice of this thoughtful, traumatized boy Jevrem. It's split into three parts; first, Jevrem's experience at age 11, at the beginning of the war in 1992, secondly, his new life in Toronto at age 16, and thirdly, what happens when he decides he has to change his life. It's raw, violent (but not unreadably so), sad, thoughtful, and utterly hypnotic. This novel is a deeply empathetic reminder that we are not always party to the inner lives of those around us.

Sarajevo and Toronto are living, breathing characters in the story. Rudolph describes them with visceral detail, making Jevrem’s experiences utterly accessible.
This story is a necessary, powerful, fast-paced yet deeply thoughtful read. What is the meaning of survival? How does one carry on after loss and trauma? Where does art fit in? Why are we even here? What good is nationalism, anyway? Rudolph raises all these questions, provides various answers for them, and makes the reader struggle with these questions for ourselves.

It's an extremely satisfying debut novel, one based on complex characters, amazing settings, a strong plot, and clear skillful writing. I'd highly recommend this to anyone who feels the need to grow in understanding of the internal experience of war upon civilians. Or those who love a fresh voice. Or anyone who wants to be absorbed into a boy's story of survival. This one is a winner.
Published in the Stratford Gazette. Written by Melanie Kindrachuk, Public Service Librarian.

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