Serendipitous circumstances lead Rejep Etaj, an Albanian-born illegal immigrant, and Eudoxia “Doxi” Athanasiou, a Greek-American, to strike up a tender, if unlikely companionship in the city of Ionnina, Greece. But when Eudoxia’s departure separates the two would-be lovers, Rejep hops aboard the New Smyrna and follows her home to Hartford, Connecticut, risking deportation to achieve love, happiness, and good fortune in the United States of America.
Rejep and Eudoxia’s relationship certainly comprises the backbone of Rouman’s novel. But while “Uncertain Journey” bears all the features of a romance novel, to call it a “love story” – at least, in a traditional sense – would be reductive. Rouman’s writing, after all, is academically-informed, tackling complex issues – from Albanian history to religion and socioeconomics – with little apprehension. “Uncertain Journey” is, at its heart, a tale of clashing worlds, the universal pursuit of identity, and most significantly, the irrepressible will to experience life on one’s own terms. Even in the face of insurmountable obstacles, Rejep and Eudoxia demonstrate a kind of stubborn courage to live, love, and succeed in an environment that cannot accept them for who they are.
Part of what makes Rouman’s narrative so enjoyable is that it evolves into much more than a sermon on the perils of illegal immigration in the 21st century.“Where do I belong?” it asks – a universal question that burns with frustration, loneliness, and above all, the fierce, underlying hunger that drives it. Eudoxia, for one, fights to reconcile her independence with her parents’ expectations, while Rejep struggles to stake his place in a society that neither respects, nor recognizes, his existence. In this way, “Uncertain Journey” not only seeks to capture the “immigrant experience,” but the familiar obstacles individuals encounter in their unending quest for self-determination.
It’s true that Rouman relies a little too extensively on exposition, readily describing – and analyzing – his characters’ thoughts and emotions throughout each chapter of their lives. There are few occasions where he practices literary subtlety – something that, admittedly, makes Rouman’s writing seem more academic than intuitive at times. Yet there is also a sort of preciseness in Rouman’s storytelling that assures us that he knows his characters – and his material – better than anyone else, and that both are lovingly prepared from start to finish. At the end of the day, it’s the sheer richness of Rouman’s subject matter that makes “Uncertain Journey” so captivating – and so convincing – a read.
Reviewed by Sonia Tsuruoka for IndieReader