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From the PublisherReview Author: Kirkus Reviews
Review Source: Kirkus
Review Date: May 16, 2011
Review Content:An illegal immigrant struggles to find a home in America in this moving tale of loneliness and belonging.
Seeing no future for himself in communist Albania, 21-year-old Rejep Etaj crosses the border into Greece, a clannish place where he finds only one friend—Eudoxia Athanasiou, a young Greek-American expat who is herself something of a refugee from family expectations. Shipping out on a freighter, he follows her to her home in New England; she helps him settle, and an ambivalent romance struggles to grow in the face of her bigoted mother’s disapproval and the precariousness of Rejep’s status as an undocumented alien. Rouman provides a quietly realistic yet nerve-wracking take on the practicalities of an immigrant existence. Rejep’s fate hangs on surmounting prosaic challenges such as getting past Eudoxia’s answering machine when he washes up in New Hampshire and mastering the complexities of a janitorial job given to him by a Hungarian-immigrant building manager who admires Rejep’s moxie and sees him as a readily exploitable worker. But the author also vividly illuminates his hero’s conflicted soul. Rejep is proud of having a job, but the menial labor makes him feel like a caged animal; he relishes the exhilaration of leaving Albania for the wide world, but longs for the close-knit village life he left behind. Although he feels isolated, he is awash in a sea of immigrants who are trying to construct communities for themselves, which always entails the exclusion of others whom they see as different. The end of that process is the hermetic anomie of the well-off native-born Americans in the condominium where Rejep works, a place where people live cheek by jowl yet rarely venture into a neighbor’s life. Writing with a limpid prose and a shrewd sympathy for his characters, Rouman finds universality in the travails of an iconic outsider.
A subtle, absorbing portrait of the immigrant experience.
"An illegal immigrant is a human being, not a statistic, and this is the most important underlying message. The work of this polished author will elicit a wide range of emotion from sympathy to skepticism. Articulate and insightful, his descriptions bring to dramatic life an individual who simply wants to escape the bad conditions in his homeland for a better existence." -Julia Ann Charpentier, ForeWord Reviews; September 2011
"Jim Rouman's book is a must-read for those seeking to understand the immigrant experience in America and abroad ... What Rouman does is to humanize the huge and sometimes heartbreaking hurdles a newcomer to our shores faces in trying to get a foothold on the ladder to a better life." - Steve Goddard's History Wire; September 7, 2011
With Uncertain Journey, James Rouman delves deeper into the literature of the immigrant experience, which he first explored from the Greek American perspective in his debut novel Underwater Dreams. The ethnic background of his characters is enriched with the introduction of an Albanian man, Rejep Etaj, who dreams of a new life just as the Greek immigrants to North America once did. Rejep strikes a friendship with Eudoxia Athanasiou, a Greek American woman, and that relationship eventually blossoms into love.
Juxtaposing Rejep’s flight from Albania’s poverty to the relative riches of Greece against a similar flight, albeit from Greece to the U.S., by Eudoxia’s family decades earlier, Rouman highlights Greece’s transition from a country of immigrants to a host country—and through her mother’s prejudice against Rejep, Greek society’s bias against foreign migrants. The parallels are subtle, but exist, between the treatment of earlier generations of Greek immigrants to the U.S. and the view of the assimilated, hyphenated Americans, like Eudoxia’s family or the Hungarian building manager with whom Rejep finds work, and newer generations of foreign migrants.
With Uncertain Journey, Rouman has created more than an absorbing story for he sketches the complex web of personal and social relations in a multicultural society that can no longer absorb immigrants and pushes them towards exclusion rather than inclusion. The novel puts a face on an anonymous group—illegal or undocumented migrants live in the shadows of our societies, visible but ghostlike. Rouman tells his tale with a characteristic clarity of prose and an engaging style that draws you into his characters’ lives, even those with which you don’t sympathize.
--Bryan Kontos, Odyssey Magazine; January 2012
‘Uncertain Journey’ explores shadowy world of illegal aliens
With his latest novel, “Uncertain Journey,” Dr. James Rouman takes his readers on a perilous trek down the dark and nerve-racking corridors of the shadowy world of illegal immigration.
Rouman, of Hartford, Conn., has strong ties to New Hampshire. In “Uncertain Journey,” he cleverly draws the reader in by putting a very real face on the murky issue of illegal immigration through crafting an intimate, frightening and emotional odyssey of his protagonist, Rejep Etaj.
Etaj is a young and lonely man who, seeing no future in his poverty-stricken native Albania, crosses over the border into Greece and quickly discovers that this fabled land of Socrates and Aristotle is definitely not the land that he had hoped it would be.
However, there is a silver lining to be found in his disenchanting experience in Greece. That shining moment comes for Rejep when he meets Eudoxia Athanasiou, a young Greek-American woman who, in the midst of fleeing from the expectations of her family, captures his heart.
His infatuation morphs into love, and he ships out on a freighter and follows Eudoxia to New England. His head is filled with distant dreams of a better life that awaits him in America – the land of milk and honey, where dreams really can come true.
Eudoxia helps him settle in New England, and despite the difficulties Rejep faces living as an undocumented illegal alien – while at the same time dealing with Eudoxia’s bigoted mother – their romance blooms.
Rouman does a masterful job of creating a cast of credible characters and in setting up a series of complex personal relations between them as the story unfolds.
Rejep finds work as a janitor, and although he’s proud of the fact that he has a job, at his core, he’s a deeply conflicted character who still longs for the simple ways of his small Albanian village.
Rouman also captures the stark realities around the fear and emotional isolation that is the life of an illegal immigrant, and he does it in a compelling way.
From the moment Rejep sets foot in New Hampshire, he lives in the shadows of a society that’s fixated on illegal immigration. His world is a perpetual state of gnawing fear that centers on that dreaded day when he may be found out.
Speaking to the thorny issue of illegal immigration across America today, the author says, “I wanted to discuss the problem in a sympathetic way; one that would look at it, and with a perspective different from what one would ordinarily expect.
“The issue of illegal immigration is a ubiquitous societal phenomenon in today’s world. Everyone seems to be talking about it, but governments such as ours, which have a need for cheap labor, seem unwilling to deal with it in a meaningful way and head-on.”
What Rouman does in this, his second novel, is to shine a light on a large segment of ghost-like people who drift silently through our society unseen and in rapidly growing numbers. He writes with the clarity that makes his characters appear so real that you feel as though you can reach out and touch them.
From a strictly legal perspective, Rejep is labeled a criminal because he has entered the United States illegally. And yet, he’s a great deal more than being a faceless government statistic. He is a flesh-and-blood human who harbors those same hopes, wishes and dreams the rest of us do. As such, we find ourselves cheering for him and wanting him to prevail.
Rouman has crafted a poignant story and an appealing central character who touches a nerve in us; a character who hits the on-switch in our more sensitive and human side. He has written a book that just might leave you rethinking your own position on a heated political issue.
Rouman is at work on a new novel, “which in effect is a retrospective view of what the field of medicine was like when I was a medical student a half-century ago,” he says.
--Paul Collins, Nashua Telegraph; March 18, 2012