Anything can become normal, if you continue to stick through it. War, murder, cults, doppelgängers, being deported to Mars- whatever world you are dropped into becomes your world. Asja Bakić is a master of normalcy in abnormal times and places. Her short story collection, Mars, is filled to the gills with the weird becoming common place. I was originally drawn to this collection for less than academic reasons: it is short and it has a pretty corner! I was looking to race through my Bingo card, and at a green-covered 167 pages I thought I had struck gold. Truthfully, I did strike gold- but a deep and dark gold that needed time and attention to come to light. I did not race through this piece; I stole a story here and there while I went about the last two months.
“I always read dystopian fiction carefully,” I ranted on, “but it never occurred tome that I’d actually experience it one day.”
Mars starts slow, and I almost quit during the second story- I was struggling to connect to the material, despite the darkly comic appeal. I left the book unattended while charging through other pieces, but I found myself drawn back by the strange pull of Martian allure. Once I sunk in my heels and dug past the second story (there is nothing terrible about it; the struggle was all mine) I was pulled even deeper into worlds of murderous grannies, gaslit androids, green-glowing cultists, and vegetarian seductresses’ luring men home with the scent of meat.
Mars itself creeps through the mist of Mars. Sometimes, one goes to Mars when they die. Sometimes, Mars is the promise of escape from the brutal reality of living in a forgotten and war-torn country (“At the base of the hill, near the well, there’s treasure buried, huge pots of gold. When the aliens come to abduct me, I’m going to dig them up and bring them to Mars.”), and sometimes Mars is where you are sent when writers and the written word are outlawed on Earth.
Everything is not magical and Martian, though. Families trade their heirlooms for transport out of ravaged countries; the children recite lists of food instead of eating while being bundled into boats in the dark of night. Asja Bakić left Bosnia as a girl, and has spent her life living and writing in Croatia. Her voice, which she frequently uses as a translator, is clearly her own in Mars; she is more than her past, she is more than her cultural norms, and she is more than the shared trauma of those around her. I cannot assign her to any of these characters, but if I did- it would be to the mysterious women who populate the streets and busses of Mars; the ones carrying grocery bags that defy expectations, the ones appearing bone-dry on doorsteps in the pouring rain, the ones smuggling forbidden poetry from one planet to another.
If you are in need of a great (and potentially quick) Bingo read, then give Mars a shot! You can find it on scribd, and it can help you with Green, Uncannon, Cannonballer Says, Reader’s Choice, Pandemic…the potential is mighty and the choice is yours.