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"How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone"

An imaginative debut novel spins fractured tales of Bosnia.

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Thomas Wolfe has nothing on Aleksandar Krsmanović. “You can’t go home again,” is much more than a saying once your town becomes the site of genocide, as Saša Stanišić details in his debut novel, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone.

As a boy, Aleksandar idolized his Grandpa Slavko, who made him a hat and wand, and told him that both were magic (and only to be used in accordance with the Statutes of the Communist League of Yugoslavia).

I doubted the magic, but I never doubted my grandpa. The most valuable gift of all is invention, imagination is your greatest wealth. Remember that, Aleksandar, said Grandpa very gravely as he put the hat on my head, you remember that and imagine the world better than it is.”

Aleksandar is hard-pressed to put that imagination of his to work when his grandpa dies that very evening. Grieving, the boy decides to never finish anything again, creating 99 paintings with something left out.

“I’m against endings, I’m against things being over. Being finished should be stopped! I am Comrade in Chief of going on and on, I support furthermore and et cetera!”

Even without his Grandpa Slavko to regale him with stories on their long walks, Višegrad is still full of a motley-yet-beloved collection of relatives and friends, from Walrus, a basketball umpire whose cuckolding becomes the stuff of local legend; to Amela, a tragic figure with long black hair who bakes the best bread in town.

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