By Michael Podgurney
CALGARY – As fall signals a state of change and triggers the seasonal affective defences to go on high alert, it’s important to remember just how fortunate most of us are to be faced only with cold and snow as external threats. At such times as these, it would be an act of self-love to warm up one’s cockles with a captivating piece of fresh Can-Lit from a local talent. In Jasmina Odor’s collection of stories, You Can’t Stay Here published by Thistledown Press, she presents a stark and honest perspective on emigrating from a conflict zone, alongside tales of the tribulations of navigating family and relationships.
Odor immigrated to Canada from Croatia in 1993 as a child, shortly after the outbreak of the Bosnian war. Her stories reflect an attitude toward the world cultivated by these experiences. Currently a professor at Concordia University of Edmonton as well as a finalist for the 2017 CBC Short Story Prize, Odor continues to evolve before our eyes and offer new glimpses into her past.
“Many of the stories are picking up on things that I saw or heard or lived through and much of it is about the experience of being displaced,” she explains.
Displacement is running theme, notably approached through two perspectives: first, the physical displacement of the body during times of conflict; second, the internal displacement of emotions from their origin into the moment-by-moment reality of the character’s lives. Often, characters are consumed by guilt for real or perceived injustices they have endured or, in some cases, inflicted. Much of the tension in these stories is created by the resolution of these emotions, or the lack of a resolution.
The stories in You Can’t Stay Here create a sense of being present, yet metaphorically somewhere else. Odor’s characters try to piece their worlds together and often it is youth who, with their fresh perspectives, offer the most clarity within juxtaposing situations.
“The war ending brought us not a return but a chasm between past and future,” explains the narrator of the story “Skin Like Almonds,” a young Croatian girl embroiled in a passionate summer holiday of flirtation on her native Adriatic coast after the war has ended.
The stories are also reflective of life as characters seek clarity, carve out new lives, but bring remnants of their former lives along. Odor writes the Edmonton setting with a perfect unfamiliarity; fittingly, her first impressions of her move to Edmonton after relocating from her previous city of Toronto were, “the broadness of things, the bigness of things. Just kind of the size of the streets.”
“And the relative absence of people. I remember walking and driving and thinking… ‘Is there a reason why nobody [is] on the streets today?’” she recalls.
This is a typical Edmonton experience for many, yet intimidating and initially bleak.
Jasmina Odor’s writing style is a pleasure to read. The stories are narrated with attentive intelligence, a voice mellifluous with bright wisdom, but not overly decorative or ornamental. The relationships between characters are conceived with a hand flush with experience, and her sense of metaphor is playful in its perceptiveness, harking back to her Slavic roots.
You Can’t Stay Here will be available in bookstores and online on October 7. You can visit Jasmina Odor at Audrey’s Book Store on October 26 (Edmonton) for the official book launch.Audrey’s Book Store, Jasmina Odor, You Can't Stay Here