Miss Ex-Yugoslavia

Sofija Stefanovic

Miss Ex-Yugoslavia
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Miss Ex-Yugoslavia

Sofija Stefanovic

Sofija Stefanovic was born into a country destined to collapse. With Yugoslavia on the brink of war, her family was torn between the socialist existence they’d always known and the pull of stability on offer in the distant land of Australia. Surrounded by conflict and uncertainty, it’s no wonder that Sofija had so many questions as she grew up: which Disney movie would her life mirror? How did Yugo rock songs compare with the Tin Lids? And can you become the centre of attention when English is your second language?

Sofija’s family spent her childhood moving back and forth between Australia and Yugoslavia, unable to settle in one home. The war that had been brewing started to rage, and the pain and madness it caused stretched all the way to Melbourne, where Sofija found herself part of a strange community of ex-Yugoslavians. Then, as the Yugoslav Wars moved towards their brutal conclusion, her family faced their own private and desperate battle. Suddenly the world was turned upside-down all over again.

By turns moving, hilarious and beautifully candid, Miss Ex-Yugoslavia captures the experience of being a perpetual outsider - and learning, in the end, that perhaps you prefer it that way. It is a story about not quite connecting with your old country, while not quite being embraced by your new one. Featuring war lords and their pet tigers, baby-sitters clubs and immigrant beauty queens, this extraordinary memoir announces a bright and compelling new Australian voice.

Review

In a world increasingly characterised by large-scale migration, Miss Ex-Yugoslavia offers a fresh, youthful take on what it means to navigate two vastly different cultures and identities. In her debut memoir, Sofija Stefanovic explores the ironies of growing up in a place that no longer exists, and how it feels to be both an outsider and an insider in two countries: one in the process of disintegrating, the other evolving.

Stefanovic was born into a Yugoslavia already betraying signs of cracks, and spent her early childhood in Belgrade under Slobodan Milošević’s authoritarian rule. As conflict and poverty continued to escalate, she and her family migrated to Melbourne, Australia. This was the first move in what would be a continual back and forth between the two cities. And so began an uphill battle to adapt to giant spiders, sprawling suburbs and a strange foreign language, while back at home Yugoslavia continued to descend into warfare and chaos, as separate, ethnically diverse regions continually pushed for autonomy from Milošević’s rule.

Stefanovic writes with unflinching honesty of a childhood torn between her heritage and her new home, the strangeness of a newfound community of ex-Yugoslavs, and the struggles of adapting to a foreign culture as a migrant family. Yet deeper than this is an often hilarious, often heartfelt story of childhood – of a loss of innocence, and of slowly, searchingly becoming a woman.

In a deeply funny, self-deprecating tone, Stefanovic is not afraid to describe, in graphic detail, the trials of womanhood, of puberty, of first loves and first rejections, and of struggling to be understood and to understand your own place in the world.

Miss Ex-Yugoslavia is a warm reflection on family, love, loss, and war that announces a powerful new voice on the Australian literary scene.


Caitlin Cassidy works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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