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How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone Hardcover – June 10, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Stanisic's debut novel is the moving story of a young Bosnian refugee named Aleksandar Krsmanovic. Aleksandar is the apple of his family's eye, but his sheltered childhood ends when ethnic wars brewing in the surrounding republics make their way to his hometown in the spring of 1992. As Serbian troops storm the village, Aleksandar's family hides, but nowhere is safe. The violence forces the family to Germany, where they struggle to adjust to their new lives as refugees. In the depths of their despair, Aleksandar's grandmother makes him promise to "remember when everything was all right and the time when nothing's all right." Aleksandar keeps his word, and the memories pour out of him like a river. The author organizes Aleksandar's recollections as a stream of consciousness, operating on no distinct linear time line and often stopping one story and starting another in the same breath. It is difficult to keep up with this frantic pace, but it pays to be patient because a remarkable life's journey unfolds. (June)
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"A brilliant debut novel from a young Bosnian writer . . . Stanisic's story is loaded on each page with galvanizing details, desperately making an inventory of an imperiled world. He maintains a delirious, jump-cut pace as words flash dark-to-light-to-dark, and sentences coil and snap, conjuring a macabre carnival atmosphere. . . . This crazy-quilt novel, a sensation in Europe, is a bold, questing work of art deeply rooted in the complex history of a blood-soaked, bone-planted land. . . . Stanisic is an exceptionally talented, impish and caring writer who has walked the edge of the abyss. One hopes that he will continue to grapple with the paradoxes intrinsic to the human condition and tell many more empathic, revealing and imaginative stories full of cathartic laughter and feeling." -- Donna Seaman, The Los Angeles Times

"Beyond succeeding as a compelling fictional account of the very real tragedy of a town in Bosnia-Herzegovina, [How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone] is also testament to the power of the imagination--and its limitations. . . . Stanisic's tale will remain exceptional: A gifted storyteller, he's able to translate unspeakably gruesome history into something poignant and hauntingly beautiful." -- Sidra Durst, The Village Voice

"In Sasa Stanisic's bittersweet, musical novel about a boy growing up in Bosnia-Herzogovina before and during the war, many things happen that are impossible to understand, startlingly visual, bordering on the surreal but all too real. . . . This is a funny, heartbreaking, beautifully written novel." -- Mary Brennan, The Seattle Times

"In his tale of childhood and war, Stanisic populates the river Drina with a dying grandfather, ghostly voices, a glasses-wearing catfish, discarded cabinets, and mutilated corpses. [His] story never calms, it rages, rough and broad and joyful. It contains both brutal heartbreak and whimsical delight. In short, it's great art. . . . Stanisic's prose is wildly inventive, never satisfied with too straightforward or familiar a telling . . . [and] so carefully crafted, so full of thrilling associative leaps and spinning breathlessness, that the author achieves poetry. . . . We live, we survive, we heal, the author wants us to see, by telling stories. This is a writer to watch." -- Jesse Nathan, San Francisco Chronicle

"Stanisic's debut novel How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone will convert skeptics with the sheer force of its emotional power. . . . Stanisic's perfectly chosen observations refract and amplify the horrifying, maddening surroundings, heightening both ends of the emotional spectrum, creating a story that, like war itself, is too large and chaotic to ever leave simply." -- Karla Starr, The Oregonian

"Stanisic's talent blazes off page after page. . . . That his tale contains so much natural, laugh-out-loud comedy speaks volumes for the author, whose autobiographical hero, Aleksandar, `somewhere between eight and fourteen,' is a talkative, precocious delight, determinedly optimistic in the face of heartbreaking losses, forever making startling little observations on life that somehow get it all wrong and yet sort of right. . . . Stanisic is so prodigiously full of big, open-hearted wisdom, I shudder to think what he has lived through to produce, at such an early age, such a transcendent little masterwork." -- Nick DiMartino, Shelf-Awareness

"Wildly imaginative storytelling . . . Through the eyes of fourteen-year-old Aleksandar Krsmonovic, we witness a massacre perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs against their Muslim neighbors in the town of Visegrad in 1992. . . . Madcap flights of invention and comic exaggeration clash movingly with the painfully real chronicle of terror, loss, and exile at the story's heart. . . . Far from trivializing the terrible history, the fanciful style makes it all the more acute. . . . How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone bears witness to this horror with tragicomic intensity, reflecting the possibilities and limitations of fiction in the face of atrocity." -- Ross Benjamin, Bookforum

"Even with hindsight, the Clinton-era conflict in the Balkans remains a confusing mess of clashing ethnic, national, and religious identities. A handful of compelling stories about this period have been bubbling to the surface . . . [and] How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone stands out as one of the best. . . . A challenging and haunted work." -- Drew Toal, Time Out New York

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; First Edition edition (June 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802118666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802118660
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,513,627 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Arienette Cervantes on May 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I picked up this novel after attempting (and then giving up on) a couple of others that I felt I was wasting my time on. I wanted to read a valuable book...and then I found one.

This starts out happy. And then it gets a little bleak. And then it comes together in a manic fit of emotion.

This is Aleksandar's documented memory and it provides so much insight to his shattered world. At times, we are as disillusioned as he is-but then he enlightens us with his deft storytelling... His sporadic thoughts...

"If I were a magician who could make things possible, I'd have lemonade always tasting as it did on the evening Francesco explained how right it was for the Italian moon to be a feminine moon. If I were a magician who could make things possible, we'd be able to understand all languages every evening between eight and nine. If I were a magician who could make things possible, all dams would keep their promises. If I were a magician who could make things possible, we'd be really brave."

Sasa Stanisic is a truly innovative author. This was spectacular.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dr Agana on June 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Whether the term "migrant literature" is justified in its existence is a question that is, hm, existential. Sasa Stanisic may not think it is, but whatever the theoretical basis, DO READ this book, please! Even if you think you've read about all the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tales sparkling with magic realism, pop-culture, wayward tragicomedy and lyrical interludes you can take, read it. In the author's adopted home country of Germany, it's a much publicized fact that he came as a refugee from Visegrad, Bosnia-Hercegovina (engraved in literature by 1961 Nobel Prize Winner Ivo Andric) at age 14 without speaking a word of German but started publishing to great success years ago and pulled off this poetic, inventive masterpiece when he was all of twice that age.

Anthea Bell's translation is certainly competent, though occasionally she doesn't quite hit the offbeat tone. But, in fairness, that's tough to do. Even in the original there are chapters where it takes pages to grasp what's going on, and I strongly hope that readers will apply some patience where necessary, because it will be rewarded. The most poignant example is the tour-de-force chapter (too long to quote) between pages 256 and 276 about a soccer game between warring factions turned bloody, which is based on a true event.

So why should American readers care about mental pole vaults on a part of the world with rituals, wars and sports they may not understand? Because the book makes a mark. Clever? For sure. Think Jonathan Safran Foer getting drunk with Gary Shteyngart, and I said this before I saw that the latter threw in his praise on the back flap. Biased reviewer? Maybe, though only to the extent that I hold writers whose vita bears any resemblance to mine to a higher standard. But find out for yourself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Suz on September 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is the fictional story of a boy, Aleksander, growing up in Visegrad in Bosnia as the war begins in 1992. He and his family escape the violence to live in Germany and 10 years later Aleksander returns to see what has changed, find people from his past and capture his childhood memories. The story is told in an unusual way with flashbacks and imagination. As the story begins, Aleksander's beloved Grandpa dies suddenly and through the book there are references to him and to other characters in the town. As a child it is hard for Aleksander to make sense of the changes in his life as the "ethnic cleansing" begins in his town and he learns that your name determines whether you survive or not. Based around real events, the author has written in a beautiful and innovative manner, (sometimes challenging - but stick with it!), whimsical at times, as the reader understands better than Aleksander (as a child) what is happening. When he returns as an adult, he finds change but his love for his town and the River Drina on which it stands, remains constant.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Irishgal on December 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
There's something to be said for the linear story, a tale that has a clear beginning, middle, and end, and progesses from one to the next with certainty. However, some stories don't fit into the linear format; rather, they can be understood only in circular form. Sasa Stanisic's "How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone" is of the latter variety. It's only in its disorganization that its true meaning can be found.

The book revolves around Aleksandar Krsmanovic, a young boy living in Visegrad, Yugoslavia. He is close to his grandfather, Slavko, and delights in all the things that engage a young child - being with friends, playing soccer, fishing, enjyoing stories. After his grandfather dies of a heart attack, he promises that he will continue Slavko's storytelling. Unfortunately, Aleksandar's stories quickly go from the innocence of childhood to the reality of war that soon strikes Visegrad, a town caught up in the Yugoslav civil war.

However, this book isn't about any particular battle. It's not about soldiers or troops or which side stood for what. Rather, it's the story of one child, caught up in a world he doesn't understand. Told from Aleksandar's viewpoint as a young man ten years after Slavko's death, it's an attempt to comprehend what happened to the town he called home, the people he called friends. It's his trying to make sense of what it means when neighbor turns against neighbor, family member against family member. It's about trying to reconcile the past with the present, the world as it was and the world as it is now.

Throughout the book, we are drawn into Aleksandar's storytelling, as he reflects on the distant past, the war, and the present. The novel often changes from one time period to the next without warning, which initially irked me.
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