An extraordinary novel succeeds on all fronts

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Extraordinary novels do more than tell a good story; they cross multiple orbits, discussing family, love, politics, money and art. What’s amazing about Robert Perisic’s “Our Man in Iraq” is that it does all of the above — while also being wickedly funny.

It’s 2003 in Zagreb, Croatia, a country just beginning to stagger out of socialism and into the blinding light of capitalism. Toni, a journalist trying to put his rural past behind him, works to build a life in the big city with his beautiful girlfriend. But his family ties get him into trouble when he volunteers his unstable (though Arabic-speaking) cousin Boris to cover the Iraq War.

Boris’ reports read like Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism, if Thompson was a Croatian suffering PTSD from the Bosnian War. Meanwhile Toni, in order to keep his job, rewrites Boris’ reports and passes them off as truth. Soon Toni is trapped by his own fabrications and begins to lose his grip on what is real and what he’s sensationalized. It’s a brilliant exploration of the role of the media and the disgraceful, fanatical competition into which it can evolve.

As if this wasn’t enough to keep our interest, there’s also the wonderfully reflective storyline of Toni and his girlfriend, Sanja, who works as an actor. Now that Sanja’s star is on the rise, Toni examines his own direction and he realizes he’s not the rebellious individual he thought he was — instead he’s just following the path of capitalism, which is leaving him empty and confused.

Perisic has crafted an exquisitely textured novel: A story about the media and a small country clamoring for attention on the global stage, it is also a deeply personal tale of one man moving from one stage of life to the next, making it a great read for anyone who has ever been young, away from home or in over their head.

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