Book Review: Crossing by Pajtim Statovci

This novel is more than just the crossing of physical borders, as its protagonist explores the crossing of gender and sexuality

 

Bujar’s world is collapsing.  His father is dying and his homeland, Albania, bristles with hunger and unrest.  When his friend, Agim, is discovered wearing his mother’s red dress and is subsequently beaten with his father’s belt, he convinces Bujar there is no place for them in their country.  Desperate for a chance to shape their own lives, they flee.  This is the beginning of a journey across borders and identities, from the bazaars of Tirana to the monuments of Rome and the drag bars of New York.  It is also a search for acceptance and love through shifting gender and social personae.  The young pair are faced with marginalisation at home, precarious means of escape and survival, and the risk of losing themselves in their struggle to leave their pasts behind.  What chance do Bujar and Agim have of forging new lives?

 

The structure of this book is very appealing because it flicks back and forth between the early and late 1990s, and up to the early 2000s.  This allows you to see how Bujar progresses as a character from one state of being to another over the years, and how his attitudes change over time.  It also piques your interest as a reader because you are curious to discover how and why Bujar behaves and thinks the way he does in light of his experiences in life.  Having that access to his thoughts and feelings is crucial in how it makes you respond to him, and it elucidates what it is like to undergo various ordeals, from homelessness to exploitation.

 

The relationship between Bujar and his father is very emotional and moving as you witness the deep and intense love they have for one another.  His father’s stories are also enlightening of the culture of Albania, and how they form a significant part of that culture and the country’s families.  The tales additionally demonstrate the importance of stories and how they are passed down from one generation to the next so that they are not forgotten.  It was heart-warming to read how, in his adult life, Bujar recalls stories his father told him in his childhood, which exhibits how his memory of his father will remain with him for the rest of his life.

 

When Bujar and Agim leave Albania for better prospects, you follow them on their journey physically and emotionally.  When they are homeless and looking for work, I was so sympathetic towards them, and Bujar’s comments about poverty and homelessness are universally applicable across the globe.  It made me think of the issue of homelessness in the UK.  Furthermore, it also made me consider the statuses of immigrants and asylum seekers, and the difficulties they face as they try to assimilate into new countries and cultures.  These are nations which can be far from welcoming, and Bujar and Agim represent the feeling of isolation that so many migrants can experience.

 

I found it desperately sad how Bujar cannot feel a sense of belonging, despite traversing across borders into different countries.  I felt so much empathy for him as he could not feel accepted for who he is in terms of his gender identification and sexual orientation.  As you read on, you constantly hope that he will find love and be loved by someone who truly cares about him.

 

Overall, Crossing is a novel that is about more than just the crossing of physical borders, as its protagonist, Bujar, explores the crossing of gender and sexuality.  You follow him in his endeavour to find love and acceptance, and experience deep and moving emotions that are just as unforgettable as Bujar’s father’s stories.

 

Rating: 5/5

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