“Ukulele Jam” by Alen Mešković Dr. No and Captain Micky

A journey from Bosnia via Croatia and Denmark to Munich. “Ukulele Jam” is a very personal novel by young author Alen Mešković.

Alen Mešković | Photo: Isak Hoffmeyer/Gyldendal.dk, 2011 Alen Mešković | Photo: Isak Hoffmeyer/Gyldendal.dk, 2011 What might you expect of a teen novel that features more than 60 song titles and bands? Of a script that is structured like a playlist? A coming-of-age book by a DJ or a hopeful young musician? Probably not, since the book is set in a refugee camp.

In the refugee camp

14 year-old Miki and his parents have saved little more than their lives. The Bosnian family relocates to a former Yugoslav people’s army hotel on the Croatian coast, which serves as a refugee camp. War is raging not 150 kilometres away, and alongside them tourists are sunbathing on the beach.

Miki has saved a few music cassettes, he listens to Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb, Deep Purple and heavy metal bands. Items from his adored elder brother Neno, who stayed behind. Gone are the times when they named themselves after comic heroes: Dr. No and Captain Micky. Neno’s unresolved fate overshadows every day in the camp. His mother sinks into a deep depression, his father listens transfixedly to the news on the radio. When questioned, Miki is only able to talk about the past when under the influence of alcohol, and it remains open as to whether everything was actually quite different and even worse.

No refuge for young people

Paralysis, resignation, disagreement and reprisals are rife amongst the adults. As he has left his certificates in his home country, Miki cannot attend the grammar school. He reluctantly attends a vocational college but he does make some friends, and he finds the Ukulele, a music shack in the nearby town that becomes a home to him. Miki wants to come to terms with the new reality. He hangs around girls with his new friends, listens to music and parties around campfires on the beach. But he soon has to admit that there are no places of refuge for young people either. The young tourists are quickly gone again, the admired rock stars from their homeland allow themselves to be roped in for propaganda purposes, and one after another his friends get visas for Sweden, Canada or Australia.

Ukulele Jam tells the story of a young man and his will to survive during the years of hatred-fuelling nationalism. It is a very personal account of the life-giving power of young people’s rituals even under the most difficult of circumstances.

A continuation of the story

The author writes an exciting conclusion for the boy, who is fifteen by then. So his story carries on. In spring 2013, Alen Mešković was staying at the artists’ residence of the city of Munich, Villa Waldberta on the shores of the Starnberger See lake. Whilst there he was working on a sequel to the story, a large proportion of which is his own. Born in 1977 in Bosnia, he now lives in Denmark, where his book has brought him great success, a funding scholarship and a German publisher in the form of Metrolit Berlin. The author, who is a gifted linguist, has also written poetry in English, because as he says himself: “In my experience it is not just dealing with the linguistic system of the language, I introduce my own whole sense of awareness. A new language only limits you to a certain degree, but this limitation does not have to be a disadvantage. Quite the opposite, it can highlight certain aspects of the writing and make you more aware of the need to communicate your content.”

Alen Mešković, who was born in 1977 in Bosnia, came to Denmark in 1994 and gained a degree in “Modern Culture and Cultural Communication” at Copenhagen University. In 2007 an article by the author was published in the New Voices anthology published by Gyldendal. In 2009 he published his poetry collection Første gang tilbage (First time back), which was highly praised by critics. The book brought him the Erik Hoffmeyer travel scholarship that year. Ukulele Jam, his first novel, was published in September 2011. In May 2012 Mešković was awarded a three-year working scholarship from the Danish state arts foundation for Ukulele Jam.

Ukulele Jam has already been translated into Croatian, Hungarian and English.