Longlisted for the 2022 National Book Award
A Washington Post, Chicago Review of Books, Kirkus, and Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Month
“Inventive, funny and moving.” —The New York Times Book Review
Translated from the German by Damion Searls
Winner of the German Book Prize, Saša Stanišic’s inventive and surprising novel asks: what makes us who we are?
In August, 1992, a boy and his mother flee the war in Yugoslavia and arrive in Germany. Six months later, the boy’s father joins them, bringing a brown suitcase, insomnia, and a scar on his thigh. Saša Stanišic’s Where You Come From is a novel about this family, whose world is uprooted and remade by war: their history, their life before the conflict, and the years that followed their escape as they created a new life in a new country.
Blending autofiction, fable, and choose-your-own-adventure, Where You Come From is set in a village where only thirteen people remain, in lost and made-up memories, in coincidences, in choices, and in a dragons’ den. Translated by Damion Searls, it’s a novel about homelands, both remembered and imagined, lost and found. A book that playfully twists form and genre with wit and heart to explore questions that lie inside all of us: about language and shame, about arrival and making it just in time, about luck and death, about what role our origins and memories play in our lives.
In this sardonic if uneven novel, Stanišić (How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone) composes a digressive shape-shifting self-portrait with some mesmerizing elements. Bosnian-born novelist Saša, living in Germany, doles out short vignettes of his family's life in Tito-era Yugoslavia, their post–Balkan War asylum in Germany, and reunions in present-day Bosnia Herzegovina. His grandmother, a steely presence, is the beating heart of the book, and Saša is fascinated by Oskorusa, the small mountainous town where she lived as a young woman. As her dementia worsens, Saša and his parents return to Bosnia to say goodbye and visit Oskorusa. Having lived in Germany since he was a boy, Saša confronts his mixed feelings over his heritage and indulges in his propensity for invention, using fiction to fill in the gaps of "uncompleted sentences, vanished memories." The wry accounts about his ancestors are highlights, though the novel sags in a long middle section about Saša's teenage years in Heidelberg, and a choose-your-own-adventure–style conclusion feels a bit gimmicky. Still, the writing often surprises, and the narrator displays a winning ludic spirit in the face of tragedy and dislocation. Though a bit too precious at times, at its best this taps into the mythic energies of the author's homeland.