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April 17, 2018

Sofija Stefanovic's Playlist for Her Memoir "Miss Ex-Yugoslavia"

Miss Ex-Yugoslavia

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Sofija Stefanovic's Miss Ex-Yugoslavia is a timely and beautifully told memoir of immigration.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Smart, spirited….Full of lively anecdotes. Stefanovic tells her story of immigration and displacement, childhood pleasures and teenage angst."

In her own words, here is Sofija Stefanovic's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Miss Ex-Yugoslavia:

My memoir Miss Ex-Yugoslavia is a sometimes-funny sometimes-dark story about me as an immigrant kid. In the 90s, my family moved between socialist Yugoslavia, where I was born, and Australia, which was so far away and strange, that my mother referred to it as “the asshole of the world”. While I was writing this book, I needed to access a lot of old memories, and one of my preferred methods was to listen to the music that coincided with the various chapters of our lives.

1 Djurdjevdan – Bijelo Dugme
My favorite song from ex-Yugoslavia. This is one I listen to when I’m stuck with my writing and I want to loosen up my memories and let them flow. The song’s lyrics are roughly, “Here comes the dawn – it’s St George’s day, and I’m not with the one I love.” Like many songs from my region, this one is about heartbreak and longing, and just the thing to provoke emotion when you’re getting into a memoir-writing mood.

2 Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
This song was released in 1982 – the year I was born in Belgrade, in the middle of an electricity outage. I wrote a chapter about my birth, trying to imagine what Belgrade was like back then. My mother had a perm and she drew on her eyebrows, my father had a shaggy beard and aspirations of moving to the west. Yugoslavia was a socialist country, but not behind the Iron Curtain. Our leader of forty years, Marshal Tito had allowed influences from the east and west to enter, and in many ways, Yugoslavia was liberated, refusing to take the side of either Cold War giant. Russians came to Yugoslavia to buy Michael Jackson and David Bowie records. Perhaps 'Billie Jean' was playing on the stereo as the neighbor sped my parents to the hospital where I would be born.

3 Tramvaj Kreće – Bijelo Dugme
I was born into a unified Yugoslavia, where young people from all republics (Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia) enjoyed listening to western-inspired Yugo Rock. Once the country fell apart several years later, we Yugo-nostalgics continued listening to Yugo rock, remembering the old days, or creating an idealized Yugoslavia in our minds. I listened to this song a lot as I wrote the Yugoslavian parts of my story.

4 Stop! – Sam Brown
I didn’t speak English when we emigrated to Australia and my mother’s tactic for helping me learn the language was to let me watch as much TV as I wanted. I remember watching Video Hits and this clip showing a blonde-bobbed, husky-voiced Sam Brown was often on. Though I didn’t understand all the words, “stop” was a pretty easy one, and I became an immediate fan of this song. My parents would come to the room when it came on because they loved it too, and we would sing along in our accented English.

5 Twin Peaks Theme – Angelo Badalamenti
We lived in a weird small town in South Australia for a while, in a little portable house surrounded by red earth and scrub. My mother was depressed because she hated the town and missed our family and friends. Meanwhile, the war was going on back in Yugoslavia. As if it wasn’t enough to be living in a creepy small town while people were killing each other back home, she watched Twin Peaks all the time – about a creepy small town where people get killed. I remember hearing the Twin Peaks theme song from the living room when I was in bed, as the smell of her cigarette smoke wafted in.

6 Dream a Little Dream – Mama Cass Elliot
As a kid who didn’t quite fit in, I found solace in reading, watching films and listening to music that had been popular decades before. For our end-of-year school show, instead of joining the other girls in a synchronized dance, I decided to lip-sync “Dream a Little Dream of Me” in front of my whole school, hoping that all the kids would love me and that I would achieve some sort of iconic status, where they would sing along, swaying in the audience. They did not, and I got booed off stage. (I still love this song though.)

7 Gloomy Sunday – Billie Holiday
When I was a teenager, tragedy touched our family. I withdrew into myself even more so than a usual thirteen-year-old and I believed all songs about grief and heartbreak were directed at me, personally. I listened to the Billie Holiday version of 'Gloomy Sunday' on repeat and I was particularly impressed that the song was originally from Eastern Europe, just like me (it had been known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song”).

8 Aretha Franklin – Runnin’ Out of Fools
When I was sixteen overheard someone say that “every woman who’s had her heart broken should have an Aretha Franklin album.” As someone who was often in unrequited love, I immediately ran out and got an Aretha Franklin album. 'Runnin’ Out of Fools' reminds me of an uncertain teenaged time of life where I felt misunderstood, and I was always in love with someone who didn’t care about me.

9 Demain – Les Nubians
My family rarely went on vacation, but when I was sixteen, we visited Belgrade, where I felt out of place and strange even though it is my hometown. Then we went to Paris, where my best friend Harry was on an exchange program. Harry and I left my family behind and got a bottle of wine and drank it on a park bench in Pigalle. I felt suddenly adult, and also uninhibited and inspired to be an artist – I was in Paris for gods’ sake! This song stuck in my head that night; “Demain” means tomorrow, and I felt like the future was full of possibility.

11 Igra Rokenrol Cela Jugoslavija – Električni Orgazam
After around a decade of war, Yugoslavia’s leader, Slobodan Milošević was brought down. My family, who had protested against him, who had moved to Australia thanks to his politics, went nuts. I danced around with my sister while all our friends sang in Serbo-Croatian “All of Yugoslavia is Dancing to Rock n Roll” as we celebrated the end of horrible news reports from back home.

12 As Time Goes By – (as sung by Dooley Wilson in Casablanca)
The film Casablanca has always held a special place: it was my dad’s favorite film, and I also like it because it’s about immigrants, like us. The beginning of the film sees people fleeing war-torn Europe, a hodge-podge of Europeans from various countries ending up in the exotic Casablanca as they wait to get visas to emigrate elsewhere. Even though suburban Melbourne, where we ended up, is so different to the fantasy world of Casablanca, there’s a warm connection I feel for this film, and its iconic song, which provokes nostalgia in its lead characters. And, as someone who writes about her childhood constantly and tearfully, nostalgic songs always hit the spot.

Sofija Stefanovic and Miss Ex-Yugoslavia links:

the author's website
excerpt from the audiobook
excerpt from the book

Booklist review
Kirkus review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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