It has been a long time since a book has shook me to the core in the way Serjanovic’s confessional story about a man forced to grow up, facing his own life and choices has. Maybe it was because of the regret I feel that I only got around to reading his work after I heard of his untimely passing although I was aware of his work since 2013, when I even had the chance to listen to him speak. Or maybe it was because this was one of the books I picked up when I was back in Serbia after reading almost exclusively in English for months. Or maybe it was because Bekim Serjanovic is just an amazing storyteller that is not affraid to bare bones and be honest with his readers. Whatever it is, if you can, please do read ‘Tvoj Sin, Hucklberry Finn’.
The narrator is unanmed, but from Serjanovic’s previous work, I think that it is safe to assume that there is a lot of autobiographical elements, albeit allowing for exaggeration and inconsistencies. He is connected to the river Sava on which he is floating away from his adult life and responsibilities, distrubed by his father’s arrival with a boat and news that he is terminally ill. This is not a coherent or chronological story, but rather a collection of snippets about people he met while travelling aimlessly and memories from his life and previous boat travel, from growing up in small town in Bosnia to his life in Norway. The style and the narrator do this story a great service. I really do not mind the non-linear story, as long as the writer can guide the reader through it well, and I think Serjanovic does. He is frequently talking directly to the reader, openly wondering if anyone will read his story and explaning to us when certain events took place. To be honest, it seems like Serjanovic wrote this book more for himself than with the actual intent of being published, which gives it a specific quality. Narrator, who is often if not always, under influence of drugs, frequently offers his musings about variety of interesting and important topic, comfortably nestled between stories about his life. They are quite honest, digestable and common sensical.
The style of the story is very conversationalist, stripped away from any pretenciousness, which makes it easy to read. Specific humour he employs and which seemingly comes naturally to him makes the story of loses, addiction, love and even immigration (I will touch upon that later in this review) easier to swallow and understand. Narrator is clearly quite educated, as he frequently makes references to other writers both from World and Ex-Yugoslavian literature. At the end, this book is linked to Mark Twain’s iconic character who just like the narrator refuses to grow up. For me, the entire strategy of storytelling in this book felt very authentic and honest, which would be the two adjectives I would use to describe this book. It is raw and straight forward, but under this attitude, there is a hurt, sensitive man hiding.
When it comes to characters, in my reviews, I usually comment on the side characters and how they are built. However, I will make an exception in this case. While there is a plethora of side characters that are fascinating in their own way, I feel like they were not supposed to be well developed, unique and relevant people, but rather that they can be literally anyone. In this case, they serve more as symbols or as instigators of narrator’s inner monologue. Usually, I would have a huge issue with this approach, but in this book, it is not so important who did or said what or what kind of person it is, but rather to tell the event in which the character participated. On the other hand, we do get to meet our narrator to a high degree. He is open about his drug use, his failures, regrets and mistakes, making himself uncomfortably human. At times, his confessions were hard to read, especially in his treatment of women that he claimed he loved. However, sugar coating or denying parts of his identity would be a huge let down for the character like this one. Through flashbacks, digresions and his narration, we slowly realize why our narrator wanted to escape everything and live on a boat. This character is one of the, if not the biggest reason why this book left such an impression on me. Although coated in layers of humour which is on border with cruelty to himself and others, he is actually quite a lonely man, looking for his place under the Sun, never seeming to find it. While I am sure that Serjanovic would not be happy about that, at the end of this book, I did feel sorry for him and the state he is.
Serjanovic also offers another perspective that is very relevant to me and millions of expatriates-that of an immigrant. Although narrator and myself moved to different countries, for different reasons and at different times, the sentiment of living in a foreign country hit home for me. The feelings of displacement in a culture that is so different from the one you grew up in and feeling that you are not yourself is depicted really well in ‘Tvoj Sin, Hucklberry Finn’. The fact that he was accused of being ungrateful for everything Norway offered a poor refugee after he pointed out the hypocricy of Norway’s society is one of the many examples of this. It is cleat that he is torn between Norway as a country that has made him more financially stable and Bosnia that is his home country. At the end, it seems like Serjanovic has always wandered in the world, looking for his place. Whatever you may believe in, we can hope that whereever he is now, he has found his home.
When I was writing this review, I was hoping that I could give you a link for an English version of Serjanovic’s book. Sadly, I cannot since it does not exist yet. However, if you are or know someone who can read this book, I highly recommend it to anyone. It is a book about a Bosnian Huckleberry who had to grow up and face the consequences of his life choices. This is by no means an easy afternoon read, but it is a very digestible and readable book that will stay with your for a while.