Jim Bartley of the Globe and Mail aptly wrote of Marko Sijanâ€™s debut novel: â€œOut of the mud of teenage hope and desperation, [Marko Sijan] generates black diamonds.â€
These ‘black diamonds’, gems of dark and elegiac humor, are the book’s five interconnected chapters, capturing five aggressive youths in the prime of their dreams and delusions. While the catalysts of their lives range from drugs and sex to power and ambitions, with anxiety hovering above it all, the book itself maintains authenticity through plausibility of voice and detail. Yes, there is intensity and urgency to Mongrel, but the text doesn’t peddle shock value, especially when one considers its framework: A parallactic and simultaneous catharsis in five separate lives set over the course of 12 hours in Windsor, Ontario.
As todayâ€™s turn-of-the-century youth aspire to culturally slip further and further from definition, itâ€™s a novel like Markoâ€™s that captures the spirit of this demographic: Its veneration of elders, its grapples with shunting old traditions and creating new ones, issues of vocation and social roles… As was said in the New York Timesâ€™ article â€˜What is it about 20-somethings?â€™, itâ€™s about feeling both elevated and trapped in a world of pure possibilities.
All this, topped with a pervasive ambivalence toward self and North American multiculturalist society as a whole. Sijan’s book is an odd contrast to what is the presumably contented view that Canadians culturally live in relative harmony with one another. While some may take that as a safe assumption, Mongrel‘s outsiders and immigrants (Jamaican, Quebecois, German-American and Serbian) demonstrate a different reality. Given the setting with Windsor’s proximity to Detroit, Michigan, one may infer some feeling that this is a conflicted environment composed of fringes, but really, in terms of just Canada, a peach can’t be without a bruise now and then.
Iâ€™d highly recommend Markoâ€™s article â€˜The Gutter Yearsâ€ in Issue 81 of Canadian Notes and Queries, where he describes a nigh decade-long process of trying to get his book published in the first place.
“Marko Sijan co-wrote a script for a short film entitled Eva Meets Felix, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 1999. His poetry, fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Maisonneuve, Canadian Notes & Queries, Branch and Encore magazines, and on the Parliamentary Poet Laureate website. Marko lives in Montreal.”