Once in a while you come across one of those novels that when reading it, you feel like you’re in the company of a good friend and finishing it, is like saying goodbye to that friend. There were a couple of novels that I read over the years that gave me that feeling and “Shards” by Ismet Prcic is one of those novels. Put simply, this novel is brilliant and an extremely impressive debut. You can tell that this is a novel that the author had to write. What impressed me the most about it was its inventiveness in the storytelling. The narrative plays with the assumptions of fiction and autobiography and the whole idea that even autobiographies aren’t to be trusted as being one hundred percent true, that “little fictions” don’t creep in every now and then; that memory is something that can be completely reliable and infallible. It is the struggle to find form in a chaotic existence, to piece together these “shards” of memory in order to come to grips with experience.
The narrator has the same name as the author, a young Bosnian theater student/actor escaping the war in the mid-1990s. It is a coming of age tale, in essence, but the line between fiction and autobiography is blurred. Having left his family and friends to live in southern California, he hears a car backfiring and he dives for cover, bringing back memories of the horrors of war and what he had experienced in his home country. He lives in the past and the present simultaneously and while recalling the war time experiences, the narrative shifts to that of a man named Mustafa - a man he encounters in his home town and is since haunted by his memory - which is told in the third person. But after a while you wonder whether Mustafa could be an alter-ego, or he could be someone that simply doesn’t exist at all. You begin to wonder whether or not “Mustafa’s” experiences are actually the narrator’s, or whether these experiences are imagined. Whatever they are, they are harrowing and peppered throughout the story is the background behind this senseless war, a war which was literally out of sight/out of mind for most Americans at the time, who were busy following the trials and travails of Clinton/Lewinski. The horrors depicted are something Europe had not seen since World War II and it wouldn’t be hard to see how such experiences wouldn’t traumatize a young man coming of age in such carnage and senseless brutality.
This is a novel that will be remembered in the years to come and I for one will never forget it. It also stands as a testament to Percic’s talent as a novelist and the future bodes well for him. I, for one, cannot wait to see what he comes up with next. This is a novel that I can’t recommend highly enough. Read this. You will never forget it.