In her debut novel Stefaniak (Self Storage and Other Stories) recounts a saga of Croatian immigrants across the 20th century through a collection of touching love stories and revelations of family secrets long held and cherished. George Iljasic, first born of those immigrants in America, shares his experiences and family stories (many told to him by his feisty grandmother, Staramajka) with his children. Who was "the Turk," and what really happened between him and George's mother, Agnes, back in the old country? Where was Uncle Marco, declared missing in action during World War I, and why didn't he ever write or come home? Who is Staramajka's Blind Gypsy? What secret does George's first love, Kata, bear? Stefaniak interweaves these compelling accounts with warmth and humor, circling back and forth through lands and time, finally completing the circle with a seam of awed satisfaction. Fans of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club will love this book; highly recommended for all public libraries.-Jyna Scheeren, Troy P.L., NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Rambling tale about several generations of Serbo-Croatians who leave the Old Country for America. Mostly, Stefaniak (Self Storage, stories, not reviewed) presents a family saga, passed down from generation to generation, with all the attendant inaccuracies, lacunae, and outright deceptions that are the stock in trade of every family tree. There are, however, a few things we can be sure of. We begin in the little Croatian village of Novo Selo, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until WWI. Shortly before the war breaks out in 1914, a young man named Josef Iljasic leaves Novo Selo for Milwaukee, intending to make his fortune in a year or two before returning home to his wife Agnes. But the war intervenes, Josef is stranded in America, and Agnes is left to fend for herself, her daughter, and her mother-in-law in a village now bereft of men. Into this scene walks Tas Akbulut, a Turkish (or is he Serbian?) prisoner of war who's billeted at Agnes's house and assigned to help out with odd jobs throughout the village. Without giving anything away, we can report that something transpires between Agnes and Tas. That much becomes obvious when we jump ahead a few years ti find that Agnes has taken her children and gone to live with Josef in Milwaukee, and Tas manages to make his way to Wisconsin to visit her. He has an easier trip than Josef's brother Marko, who was thought to have died in the war but actually became a POW (for the other side) and ended up living in Russia, where he survived the Revolution by playing the violin. There are also stories about the blind gypsy who taught Marko the violin, the woman Josef loved in Milwaukee, and the trip that Josef's granddaughter Mary Helentakes to meet her relatives in the Old Country. Overdone and confusing. An impossibly tangled narrative strangles what, in parts, is a truly fascinating and intricate first novel.