That ruthless unwillingness to look away has long been a hallmark of Hemon's writing. Born in in Sarajevo, he relocated to Chicago after being stranded there as a visitor at the start of the Bosnian war. His previous work — two novels, including "Nowhere Man" and the National Book Award-nominated "The Lazarus Project," and two story collections, "The Question of Bruno" and "Love and Obstacles" — has explored issues of history and identity, often using his experience as a catalyst.
Something of a similar focus emerges in "The Book of My Lives," which takes us through 15 essays, 15 sets of incidents that echo back and forth like related episodes. The reports become more intimate when Mr Hemon describes the dislocation of exile and the challenge of inventing a new life. By comparison, these essays are restrained. Readers will recognise some as pale versions of stories he has fictionalised more exuberantly elsewhere. What Kafka knew was that there is no reason to believe that the reality we know and count on as reliable will not suddenly and arbitrarily alter.
But what could never happen happily happened on November 8 and a kind of scramble for the ontological blankie of reality inertia ensued. A retort to President Obama had long been ready, provided by a certain Ludwig Wittgenstein way back in , when his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was published.
Like Kafka, the good Ludwig, having lived through World War I, was versed in collapsing empires and disintegrating worlds. This is difficult to accept. Because the mind can be only in the present it perceives only what belongs to the present. The future can thus only be an extension of that which is, replicating the structures of the present. In America, a comfortable entitlement additionally blunts and deactivates imagination — it is hard to imagine that this American life is not the only life possible, that there could be any reason to undo it, because it just makes sense as it is, everything is going fine.
One of the roles literature often serves in a bourgeois culture is to make a case for this life as endless and universal, as making perfect, if pleasingly complicated, sense, as containing all that is required for the ever comforting processes of our understanding ourselves.
Literature becomes ontological propaganda, a machinery for making reality appear unalterable. The vast majority of Anglo-American literary production serves that purpose, confirming what is already agreed upon as knowable. When there is a major rupture, the whole structure of self-evidence falls apart and the shock exposes how badly it has been maintained. The moment when we cannot in any way connect what is taking place and what we know is a traumatic one, because the solidity of reality — the belief that its continuity cannot be altered — catastrophically falters.
Some time later, we might fully recognize such a moment as the one that divided the continuity of being into the before and the after, the moment when time went out of joint. Recall , when the very solidity of objects — the twin towers — and their physical continuity was shattered. His longing for the Sarajevo of his past is palpable; the loss that his family suffered through the siege of that city and the pain of their life in exile is vivid and affecting.
His recollections open up a world unfamiliar to many Americans, and make Sarajevo a vividly complex and compelling place. It is the grim and agonizing center of this collection, though it is, wisely, the final piece in the book. Narrative imagination—and therefore fiction—is a basic evolutional tool of survival. Works[ edit ] In Hemon published his first book, The Question of Bruno, which included short stories and a novella, to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
His second book, Nowhere Man , followed in
Works[ edit ] In Hemon published his first book, The Question of Bruno, which included short stories and a novella, to overwhelmingly positive reviews. When there is a major rupture, the whole structure of self-evidence falls apart and the shock exposes how badly it has been maintained. One had to protect from the onslaught of wasted words the silent place deep inside oneself, where all the pieces could be arranged in a logical manner … where even if you ran out of possibilities, there might be a way to turn defeat into victory. This might all seem like an abstruse stretch, but I can attest it is well familiar to those of us who have lived through the beginning of a war, through a time when what cannot possibly happen begins to happen, rapidly and everywhere.
A fascinating essay on Mr Karadzic reveals the toxic myth embedded in a Serbian epic poem used to justify the slaughter. A bonus reward is a kind of retroactive alertness, which allows the previously normal past to be seen as utterly abnormal — nothing could ever again be the way it used to be. The vast majority of Anglo-American literary production serves that purpose, confirming what is already agreed upon as knowable. This may be the teacher who introduced Hemon to Montaigne, but his most essential lesson is that literature does not exist in a vacuum, that what we read and write is a reflection, in the deepest sense, of who we are. That's the sneaky power of "The Book of My Lives," that its pieces talk to one another like filaments of memory.
This is the feeling that possessed me during the time my daughter Isabel was sick and then died.