Magazine article World Literature Today

Shards

Magazine article World Literature Today

Shards

Article excerpt

Ismet Prcic. Shards. New York. Black Cat. 2011. isbn 9780802170811

In sharp prose, fresh similes, and trenchant wit, this nonlinear first novel, a deeply tragic black comedy, portrays the impact of the Bosnian War on soldiers and civilians through its protagonist, Ismet Prcic, a young Bosniak émigré who shares his creator's name and key biographical details. Shards, whose title signals its form and content, comprises three notebooks, "Escape," "Shards," and "Boom-Boom," which Ismet records when directed to "write everything" as therapy for his disabling PTSD.

Notes and diary scraps shuttle between Bosnia and Los Angeles, past and present. But their narrators, Ismet and his alter egos-Izzy, a cool-dude Angelino, and the two Mustafas, a puny, smart-ass version of Ismet with many of his memories and Mustafa's shadow, a burly young peasant-are unreliable and occasionally penetrate one another's narratives. Indeed, Ismet, "a good actor since the age of six," when parental wars first disrupted his universe, consciously questions his memories: "Back in the USA, mati. Exit Ismet, enter Izzy. You have no idea how good it feels to be another . . . taking a break from the fake memoir."

Having fled the war just before his military induction, Ismet intersperses his recollections with the Mustafas' horrific combat stories, appropriated from a Bosnian veteran in an LA hospital. His second "fake memoir" reflects his guilt-"What he had survived made me feel unworthy of calling myself a Bosnian"-and further disrupts his sense of identity: "Why do I write about Mustafa? Why does he have my memories? …

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