Mama Leone
Archipelago
Miljenko Jergovic
“The Kid Never Panics”
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“The Kid Never Panics” is from Miljenko Jergovic’s collection Mama Leone (Archipelago Books).  His first book of poetry, Warsaw Observatory, won two prestigious awards in 1988 and he has published several novels, including Buick Riviera.  Jergovic is best known in the US for his debut collection, Sarajevo Marlboro (Archipelago, 2004), widely regarded as the 1990’s most significant literary reckoning with the war in Bosnia.  Jergovic, a major figure in European literature, has been widely translated.

 

David Williams, translator, said this about the collection:  For the most part, the 33 stories that comprise Mama Leone are drolly narrated by the charming, if precocious, young Miljenko, whose coming of age bears a strong resemblance to that of his literary creator.  Yet to read these stories as autobiographical would be to overlook that Jergovic’s main preoccupations in the collection are lying, invention, memory – and the considerable bleed between the three.  Prompted, most of us are able to relay a funny or touching anecdote from our childhood, yet in Jergovic’s hands, this kind of memory work – the work of storytelling – becomes something altogether more ingenious, and true.

 

Mirth and melodrama are in equal part in this (bitter)sweetest of family chronicles.   Mama Leone reminds us of Tolstoy’s famous line about all happy families resembling each other, and each unhappy family being unhappy in its own way.  As readers, we are struck by the surety with which its stories seduce those of us who grew up in other geographies, and other times, and the paradox of the particular becoming universal.  Williams’s translation of Dubravka Ugresic’s Karaoke Culture (Open Letter, 2011) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award for criticism.

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