A novella by Adnan Mahmutovic
Cantarabooks author Adnan Mahmutovic has written a provocative novella about a Bosnian refugee who will do seemingly whatever it takes to get a German stay permit. She is determined, relatively even-keeled, and fiercely passionate; yet she runs with a sordid, unsavory crowd. Despite her swift spiral that leads her deeper and deeper into this corrupt environment, you find yourself rooting for her, wishing she succeeds — you even find yourself in her. Mahmutovic gives us not only a glimpse of the physical world in which she resides, but also her process of introspection as the curtains come up. And the more you see what’s behind Fatima’s curtain, the more you respect her.
Fatima tries every angle — legal and illegal — to legitimize herself. She meets an unscrupulous journalist who tries to coerce from her damaging information on public officials with whom she’s shared trysts, but she also uses the journalist for her own self-interested pursuits. She tries her hand at journalism, perhaps hoping that it may offer her the ability to stake her claim in the written fabric of German society. And that publication of her thoughts, her ideas, her values in a German magazine — however sleazy – may initiate her into the ranks of Berlin’s editorial architecture. Mahmutovic’s infusion of the writing theme is done masterfully; it flows and unravels easily, fluidly.
Another way Fatima tries to legitimize herself is to steal away in the hidden nooks of City Hall, planting herself in cobwebbed corners, acting as if she has the taxpayer right to be there.
She washes herself in a park fountain, as if she were an elemental part of the civic infrastructure.
She’s fascinated by the prostitution ring’s “10 Commandments” of prostitution, as if it allowed the ring to legitimize or ordain itself in the eyes of God.
She quotes a Bosnian film on hypnotism: “Every day, in every way, I get better and better.” Responding to the quote she says “I love that. I should try it myself.” Although the novella does not allude to this, my mind ran wild and I imagined that perhaps if she hypnotized herself she could forever remain – at least in her head — a legal citizen. At least this would give her peace.
The characters in Illegitimate are vivid, and they will stay in your head long after the novella ends. In fact, I recognized some of myself in Fatima in her “happy dance”:
“It’s so good to see my own words, my own stuff right there on those smooth pages. I fall into my futon and hyperventilate…I stand up, lie down, run about, put on my make-up, wash it off, cook lunch… God, I’m excited.”
I think all women have been there. Maybe for different reasons, but we’ve all been running about in a frenzy, flopping on the futon.
Anything so well written that the characters fall off the page (screen) and into the seat across from you is well worth a read. I haven’t even mentioned many of the other characters, but like Fatima, they are well worth getting to know. They too, might just adjust some of your preconceived ideas or initial stereotypes – at least make you reconsider them.