Mitrova Amerika by Petar Sarić
Belgrade. Prosveta. 2012. ISBN 9788607019663
Mitrova Amerika (Mitar’s America) is the Serbian literary contribution to the topic of immigration to the United States. In this intriguing novel, Petar Sarić (b. 1937), a native of Kosovo and author of several novels, books of poetry, and plays, takes a look at Serbian immigration before World War I. The protagonist, Mitar, a Montenegrin, arrives at Galveston, Texas, sponsored by another Serb who immigrated before him and eventually became a proverbially rich man in America. Mitar experiences the hard work of unloading ships in the Galveston harbor while assimilating to the new way of life and learning, among other things, the new language.
Sarić does not dwell on the physical aspects of those experiences but rather on the psychological and emotional difficulties Mitar is exposed to while trying, or sometimes not trying hard enough, to accept the new way of life. His main dilemma is whether to accept the new life while forgetting the old one. Unfortunately, the old country is still alive in him. Thus, when World War I erupts, he and many of his former countrymen return to Serbia and enroll in the Serbian army as volunteers. Mitar leaves his wife and two children behind in Galveston, while a third child goes to Serbia with him. Although this does not solve all his problems, he has at least tried to solve them.
The plot is enriched by the love story between Mitar and his wife, Ljubica, also an immigrant from Montenegro. She adjusts to the new life faster than her husband, which makes his joining the Serbian army more plausible, although he is not sure whether it is the real reason. Throughout the novel he is beset by strange contradictions in his nature. The story, told to him by his Galveston neighbor from India, of a man threatening to commit suicide in order to gain love and attention from his family but eventually hanging himself furthers Mitar’s woes. After he returns to his native village, he finds it changed completely, estranging him even from his native country, which leads to his attempting suicide. Yet he refuses to return to America and rejoin Ljubica and his two children. At the end of the novel, however, she joins him back in Montenegro, while their two children remained in America. Mitar ruefully complains that America “destroyed” his family while Ljubica retorts, “Our America!”
Mitrova Amerika is replete with fine psychological nuances, primarily concerning the dilemmas of emigration. Sarić eschews nationalistic tones, although he mentions the parents’ attempts to instill pride in their children toward their Serbian origin. He underscores the difficulties, almost impossibility, of the original descent surviving in a generation or two. Sarić traverses the long and often painful road many immigrants have gone through. In this sense, the novel attains a fascinating social value, describing experiences millions have gone through. A frequent poetic tone and the intertwining of narration with inner thoughts of characters, marked in cursive, add a higher literary quality to the novel. Mitrova Amerika offers a valuable contribution to contemporary Serbian literature as well as thought-provoking reading to both domestic and foreign readers (the novel is being translated into English).
University of North Carolina