Dear Readers (thanks both of you) as you know I am a fan of Aleksandar Hemon the famous author from the former Yugoslavia, from Sarajevo, Bosnia who now lives in Chicago, used to live in Uptown—all this to say he is a Nowhere Man.
Reading his “memoir” The Book of My Lives I can see how easy it is to subvert memories. He comes from a country with a long history—where memory is just as long. I love how Hemon has always interjected into his fiction autobiography, while at the same time his non-fiction reads like a story. The past is a tricky thing—depending upon where one stands in a room, the angle changes. Genre with Hemon is just as fluid. I got the sense when reading The Book of My Lives that so much of his life he has had to re-think.
War has a tendency to do that. And, not just any war, but a soul-tearing, ethnic cleansing war. Not just a civil war but a holocaust and tsunami put together.
How does one rebuild memories or reconcile their perceptions to this new reality? Stories of Hemon’s childhood, growing up in the “hood in Sarajevo—one gets that . . . nothing will ever be the same. It was Thomas Wolfe who said you can never go back home, but Sasha Hemon really can’t—because all the markers, the building he lived in as a boy, the park where he played, the shops, the stadium were blitzed, bombed, turned into rubble. Even his childhood friends, teachers, neighbors—they no longer exist. All that changed when they were asked to take sides, show their loyalty, deny prior associations. Everything—truth, what others call truth, our enemies truth subverts memory.
Thus it is free to roam, to cross borders.
In The Book of My Lives we learn how it once felt to be a boy growing up in Sarajevo, and also the foreignness of that particular dream. The little blue alien man on the cover represents what it is like to go from one place to another and never belong.