Title: Mars: Stories

Writer: Asja Bakić (translated by Jennifer Zoble)

Publishing House: The Feminist Press at CUNY

Date of Publication: March 19th 2019 (first published 2015)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’Death is typically a European film. The scenes are evocative, the atmosphere and characters charged. But in my case, death took a different form.’’

When you start reading a book and you feel the need to underline entire paragraphs from the very first pages, you know that an exciting reading experience is waiting for you. In the case of Mars by the Bosnian writer Asja Bakić ‘’exciting’’ is too weak a word to describe this collection of short stories by one of the most talented writers in our beautiful Balkan neighborhood.

‘’Ι don’t remember how many of us were in the cabin, but all the girls would scream for the teacher when, just as everyone was on the edge of sleep, I’d tell scary stories about witches and monsters. Look at that woman lurking in the window.’’

Bakić uses elements of different genres to write about universal theme and issues that are relevant to the past and the present. Magical Realism, Science Fiction, and Literary Fiction. No matter the genre, Bakić creates a unique array of extremely powerful stories where Feminism, social issues, sensuality, mystery, and horror form a dark, macabre scenery. Women try to cope with choices that don’t belong to them when war and social restrictions place more and more obstacles in their way.

‘’You should have learned by now that you can’t trust death, or people.’’

In fluid, powerful writing, beautifully translated by Jennifer Zoble, Bakić touches on the lack of trust and the threats that are lurking for women who feel the need to step out of a society that wants to suffocate them and reduce them to a role where no expression, no liberation is allowed. In an environment heavily influenced by the absurdity of Sovietism and the insecurity that follows the fall of a regime. ‘’Literature is the primary link between life and death.’’, a character states and the truth and gravity of these words permeate the collection. When the world becomes a difficult, dangerous place, hardships multiply if you are a woman.

‘’Everyone wants to go to heaven’’, I said. ‘’It must be too crowded there.’’

Day Trip to Durmitor: A writer finds herself in a weird Purgatory, guarded by two demanding secretaries. She will be able to move on once she writes the perfect book. But what does ‘’moving on’’ actually mean?

Buried Treasure: The adventures of a quirky family during a happy, sleepy summer as the nineties began. A story that makes you feel a bittersweet kind of melancholy when you know what is about to follow…

‘’It’s not the season for walking’’, I said. ‘’It’s cold, and people are idiots.’’

The Talus of Madame Liken: Can you get scared – and I mean, really, really scared- while reading a ten-page story in the Tube, in the middle of a beautiful April afternoon? Because this tale of violence, terror, and retribution will make you shiver. One of the most brilliant atmospheric stories I’ve ever read.

Abby: A woman loses her memory every five minutes and is forced to put up with a controlling husband. A brilliant story that mixes gender studies and Science Fiction.

‘’Why aren’t you here?’’, reads Asja’s message, ‘’it’s midnight.’’

Asja 5.0 : In a world where physical contact has vanished and procreation is contacted in labs, two people try to return to a time when intimacy was undisputable. How can you survive in a society ruled by a regime that aims to extinguish every trace of feelings and personal identity?

Carnivore: What if two strangers decided to follow each other and arrange a weird date? What does meat have to do with an affair? This story is one more brilliant metaphor of isolation and desire.

‘’I’d always identified with Medea: I wrote like a betrayed, rejected sorceress, but in fact, I’d received Medea’s gift – her poisonous truth.’’

Passions: How many identities can a writer obtain through her work? What happens when a shady presence from the past reappears in a terribly unsuitable moment? A marvelous, mysterious story.

‘’You can’t rebuild a world that’s been reduced to ashes.’’

The Guest: A journalist has to investigate a cult and its mysterious leader and contemplate on the possibility of being able to turn every thought into a tangible object.

‘’In the children’s room, on the floor, sit two sisters, playing. There are no toys around them. The room’s disorderly, dirty. They make all – too- familiar hand movements – they stab at something in front of them and then bring it to their lips. It quickly becomes clear that the girls are playing lunch. There’s no food; they are only pretending to eat.’’

Heading West: A family tries to escape severe hunger and war by trusting its fate into the hands of a suspicious- looking squad. A story about the tragedy of a war that still haunts us.

‘’In this divorce between us writers and other people’’, I said, ‘’the moon belongs to us.’’

The Underworld: An intergalactic society where writers and, consequently, freedom of speech are restricted and persecuted.

Mars…The Roman equivalent of Ares, the ferocious god of War. The other half of Venus, forming the unbreakable bond between Love and War. The god that gave its name to the month that stands upon the edge of winter and the beginning of spring. The strongest planet in terms of astrology. And the title of an outstanding collection by the immensely talented Asja Bakić.

‘’Where does a woman go, if she doesn’t know what’s in store for her?’’