Translated by Jennifer Zoble
With unapologetic vividness, Lejla Kalamujic depicts pre- and post-war Sarajevo by charting a daughter coping with losing her mother, but discovering herself. From imagined conversations with Franz Kafka to cozy apartments, psychiatric wards, and cemeteries, Call Me Esteban is a piercing meditation on a woman grasping at memories in the name of claiming her identity.
"This poignant and kaleidoscopic debut collection from Kalamujić conveys a young woman’s adolescence—also named Lejla—in Sarajevo during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Lejla loses her mother when she is two, and is raised by her grandparents while her father drinks to drown his sorrow. When the war begins, Lejla leaves Sarajevo for the country, but then returns to the city to live with her father’s parents. Lejla describes the mingled pleasures and pains of a motherless, war-scarred childhood, like working at a bakery in “White Desert” and watching the birds her father raised in “Waiting for the Pigeons.” Clever devices such as an imagined exchange with Franz Kafka at age 14 about the whims of the “bad guys” explore the absurdity of the war, and an older Lejla struggles with mental health and her queerness. Kalamujić offers memorable images (an owl has “dense, black eyes where, instead of pupils, there floated yellowish dots, like stars cast out of a constellation”) and creates sympathetic characters in a few strokes. Meanwhile, her narrator’s emotional landscape and the landscape of the country are intimately connected and vividly described. Stylish and brisk, these stories refuse to wallow in tragedy, becoming instead a convincing testament to the consolations of art." -Publishers Weekly Star Review
Lejla Kalamujic is an award-winning queer writer from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Call Me Esteban received the Edo Budisa literary award in 2016 and it was the Bosnian-Herzegovinian nominee for the European Union Prize for Literature in the same year.
Jennifer Zoble translates Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian- and Spanish-language literature. Her translation of Mars by Asja Bakic (Feminist Press, 2019) was selected by Publishers Weekly for the fiction list in its “Best Books 2019” issue. She contributed to the Belgrade Noir anthology (Akashic Books, 2020), and her work has been published in McSweeney’s, Lit Hub, Words Without Borders, Washington Square, The Iowa Review, and The Baffler, among others. She’s a clinical associate professor in the interdisciplinary Liberal Studies program at NYU.