Pajtim Statovci’s debut novel flits between genres to create a memorably disconcerting tale about life as an outsider in modern Europe

Kosovo-born Finnish writer Pajtim Statovci’s debut novel begins with a chap called blackhetero-helsinki prowling the internet in search of “fun and games”, continues with a lonely immigrant student getting into a relationship first with a boa constrictor and then a haughty cat he meets in a bar singing along to Cher’s Believe, and ends with a series of ruminations about the violence of men, of memory, of migration. If this sounds whimsical, don’t worry; My Cat Yugoslavia is a striking work about dislocation and estrangement that moves between science fiction, comic fable and trauma narrative without ever settling snugly into any of them.

The lonely student is Bekim. His parents came to Finland from the Balkans during the 1990s. When people ask him his name he often makes one up. Sometimes he pretends to be Russian. Local toughs would spit on his face: “Wipe it away and you’re dead, they said, wipe it and you’re dead, you fucking parasite refugee.” He’s mostly gay, obsessed with cleaning, and disconnected not only from his fellow students but from his mother, Emine. She too is struggling: brought up in a quietly conservative village near the Kosovan capital of Pristina, she was married off to a man whose name, Bajram (“celebration”), belied his fierce temper, and it has taken her decades to pluck up the courage to leave him.

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