Readers of this blog know I appreciate Aleksandar Hemon’s writing. I re-read his novels and loved The Book of My Lives—so much so that I recall passages from it at random moments (especially since I live in Uptown where he based some of his observations). He has the peculiar ability to offer a surprising word in a sentence. I owe this to the fact that English is his second language. He uses it to its fullest.
His newest volume is non-fiction comprised of flash memoir pieces. The book is divided between memories of his parents, perhaps their memories, and his own thoughts back on his life—including preambles on mortality, writing, and other philosophical meanderings. Early on he riffs on Robert Shields who recorded his life in 5-minute segments, accumulating eventually more than 94 cartons of diaries. It is like always being “on.” It also begs the question: Who cares?
This work reflects a kind of Bosnian nostalgia=meaning there is no Yugoslavia. It is a pragmatic look back at something no one can no longer conjure. When I reminisce about the Ohio of my youth—there is at least a Ohio to refer back to. We take so much for granted, such as childhood. It vanishes along with childhood friends, places, and culture. Childhood culture of the 70s meant running the sidewalks with your pals until the street lights came on and then coming inside to the family.
We are so far away from that point in time—see Parent College Admissions Scandal, see Life360—an app that allows you to track your offspring, even if they are in their 20s and in college.
Here’s a small excerpt—it leaves me in a nostalgic mood.
We’d drive back home on a Sunday afternoon in early September, the experience of my time in the countryside ebbing already, the cherry stains on my hands fading like misremembered jokes. The last stretch of road, before Sarajevo opened like a palm of a hand, went through the Bosna River Valley. The sun would already be tucked in beyond the hills, a blue sky turned gray, the river fading into black, the cars would have their headlights on, ready for the onslaught of darkness. Summertime shuddered, quietly awaiting its end. We would see the rash of feeble fires on the slopes where the peasants scorched the summertime grass and dry bushes. That smell of burning in the Bosna Valley is the smell of coming back home at the summer’s end, a few days before school started, before my birthday, before the rains, before everything stopped being what it was. The smell of home, however was different: when we walked into our apartment, it would have the fragrance of our absence, of silence and cleanliness, of no one being there. I’d always be the first to inspect the apartment as if to see if something had changed, if somehow the order of things as we’d left them was altered, if something other than our life had taken place in that space, if someone had slept in my bed, touched my toys, read my books. But nothing, if course, would ever be different: when we were not there, and I always found comfort in that. Home is a place where there is void when you’re not there; home is what your body fills out. Nowadays we live elsewhere and otherwise, but there is still nobody in our place when we are not there. When I visit, that’s where I may be. I’m always absent somewhere. Home is fragrant nothing where I am not.
--and this from a guy who left home and was unable to return because of a war, suddenly seeking asylum in Chicago.
Absent from this volume are political analogies or observations. Perhaps because Hemon surmises that whatever he writes today will within minutes change—as current political news moves so fast. Suffice it to say: there are correlations between blind, obedient populations willing to follow a leader into oblivion.
Like this piece reveals: https://lithub.com/aleksandar-hemon-on-the-urge-to-violence-in-a-time-of-trump/
I highly recommend this divided memoir of flash memoir.