Little Bastards in Springtime

Little Bastards in Springtime

A Novel

Book - 2014
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"It's spring 1992. Jevrem Andric is eleven years old, and brutal civil war is erupting in Sarajevo. At first it's just boring, as kids shut in apartments run out of ways to entertain themselves. A few weeks later, boredom is a luxury. Hell has arrived. They are trapped and face starvation and death. Jevrem's only comfort is his beloved grandmother, a tough World War II partisan who has seen everything there is to see in war. Five years later, what's left of his family has immigrated to Toronto, where spring feels like mid-winter, his grandmother is broken and ill, and sixteen-year-old Jevrem is on a rampage, drinking, doing drugs and breaking into houses with his small gang of Yugoslav friends. When his grandmother dies, he faces a moral reckoning that compels him to try, in his own warped way, to do some good in the world-the consequences be damned."
Publisher: Toronto, Ontario : HarperCollinsPublishersLtd., c2014.
ISBN: 9781443408868
Characteristics: 399 pages ;,24 cm.


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May 10, 2016

A boy of 11 lives through the siege of Sarajevo as his family and friends die around him. He suffers terrible physical and mental trauma. With his mother, sister and granny, he arrives in Canada five years later as a refugee. The people there (here) are nice but stupid and ineffectual. He gradually takes his own path to recovery.
There is a lot in this book that is intense and gripping. It’s a visceral exploration of civil war and civil society from the point of view of a youth who cannot escape them, and Katja Rudolph gives the reader a textured sense of the reality. I could see what it’s like living under a siege, with little food and snipers shooting down the streets, as well as the drugged-up life of a deeply alienated kid in suburban Toronto or in jail. It’s pretty scary. Rudolph shows how people make foolish decisions, or get pushed into them, or get dragged along whether they decide or not. Even when motivated by the best intentions, in bad circumstances they make bad choices. Jevrem’s pacifist father feels he has to fight. Jevrem adopts bizarre ways to try to help people whom he thinks need his help.
In spite of the grim scenes, the book is a positive one. Jevrem’s mother and his sister find their own ways to cope, even if they appear a bit fragile. Jevrem launches himself on a long, complex journey to a better future, which ultimately seems to work out. This gets a bit mythical in the last part of the book, although it still seems to me to be well grounded in reality.
Rudolph makes a recurring theme of the stories people tell themselves, national and family stories and myths. Jevrem’s granny keeps retelling the stories of her life as a young Yugoslav partisan fighting the Nazis with Tito, and building the country after the war. Jevrem takes inspiration from her heroism and her victories. But her stories of surviving in the forest have parallels to Jevrem’s family starving in Sarajevo, and her building a railway while writing to her separated love sounds a bit like she’s in a forced labour camp. Her stories are idealized, justifying what she went through, although they, perhaps happily, give Jevrem the inspiration he needs to make himself a new life.
When I first read the novel, I was a bit disappointed in the ending – it seemed a bit too idealized as Jevrem is re-inspired to take a productive new role in his life. But on further thought, I realized that in fact the whole book is told from Jevrem’s point of view, and so is the ending. It is idealized because that’s how he sees it. His ending is a story that he is telling himself and if it keeps him going on a good path, that’s a good thing. If he finds out later that it’s not entirely realistic, perhaps he’ll find another story that will keep him going.
I liked this book quite a lot. It’s gritty and realistic, but it also raises questions about society, ranging from ideology and war to how we deal with children of war and refugees. One question that it raises for me is, what stories do we as Canadians tell ourselves about our values and our reality? Our national myths about our welcoming society and our supportive social systems have some gaping holes as Jevrem sees them.

Jul 19, 2015

A sad portrayal of children growing up during the wars in Sarajevo and involving Yugoslavia, Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia. A disturbing account of immigrant refugees living in Toronto, their exclusion from mainstream society and the draw towards addictive substances.

Apr 27, 2015

This is my favourite read this year. Tough, tender, compelling and brilliant. Do not miss this book. It will sweep you away and leave you emotionally changed as you wrestle with the powerful questions it raises. Beautifully written. This is the real deal.

Jan 29, 2015

I would have never picked this up based on the title or the cover, but it was recommended to me so I tried it and I was impressed. This is a powerful important book. Now I'm the one recommending it.

melwyk Jun 27, 2014

Don’t be put off by the title of this new novel: it’s important to the story. It focuses on the experience of a young boy who lives through the Siege of Sarajevo, and then moves to Toronto. There he finds a group of teens from the former Yugoslavia, forming a gang called the Little Bastards, because their war was all about ethnicity, and they are all mixed-up bits of each – and had to face the danger of being “bastards” in Sarajevo.

The book investigates the effects of violence on people of different ages and situations. How does the experience of living in a war zone shape our main character Jevrem? What part does PTSD play in the assimilation of new immigrants from war zones?

The matter-of-fact narrative of war in the former Yugoslavia was eye-opening. It isn't bitter or didactic -- it is absolutely full of energy, of the voice of this thoughtful, traumatized boy Jevrem. It's split into three parts; first, Jevrem's experience at age 11, at the beginning of the war in 1992, secondly, his new life in Toronto at age 16, and thirdly, what happens when he decides he has to change his life. It's raw, violent (but not unreadably so), sad, thoughtful, and utterly hypnotic. This novel is a deeply empathetic reminder that we are not always party to the inner lives of those around us.

Sarajevo and Toronto are living, breathing characters in the story. Rudolph describes them with visceral detail, making Jevrem’s experiences utterly accessible.

This story is a necessary, powerful, fast-paced yet deeply thoughtful read. What is the meaning of survival? How does one carry on after loss and trauma? Where does art fit in? Why are we even here? What good is nationalism, anyway? Rudolph raises all these questions, provides various answers for them, and makes the reader struggle with these questions for ourselves.

It's an extremely satisfying debut novel, one based on complex characters, amazing settings, a strong plot, and clear skillful writing. I'd highly recommend this to anyone who feels the need to grow in understanding of the internal experience of war upon civilians. Or those who love a fresh voice. Or anyone who wants to be absorbed into a boy's story of survival. This one is a winner.

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