Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book 31: The Book of My Lives

I actually first saw this book on a list for new releases in 2013, and though it peaked my interest, I didn't hear much of anything else about it, so I decided to wait.  I finally picked it up recently, and thought it was a pleasant enough read.  Some of the essays were incredibly moving, while a few others didn't quite work for me though they were well-written.  I just don't tend to pick up short fiction or non-fiction that often, and when I do, it tends to be humorous essays so this was a bit outside my normal reading selection.  I think I would have enjoyed it more if I'd spaced the essays out, reading one or two a day rather than simply reading through from one to the next.
The essays are arranged in more or less chronological order, and address Hemon's childhood in the former Yugoslavia, the atmosphere before the war, and his life in America while his country is torn apart.  Some of his friends remained in Sarajevo, and he shares some of their experiences as well, and that was actually one of the most powerful essays in the entire collection.  I also really liked the soccer one - for some reason, it just stands out to me even now.  Other essays that stood out to me include one dicussing a former professor that ends up playing a huge and monstrous role in the government as well as one about him putting his life back together post divorce.  Almost every single essay in this collection has been published before, in magazines such as The New Yorker, and as a result, some essays end up referencing the same event but from different contexts since he probably didn't originally plan to have them together.
For some reason, I thought he was younger when the war started, since the cover of my book simply said something about school, but he was actually in his mid to late twenties, which adds more perspective and awareness to his surroundings than an eighteen year old freshman would have had.  I particularly love the title of this collection since it is such as fitting description, as the essays cover his childhood and adolescence in Sarajevo, as well as his life as a refuge until finally he sees Chicago as his home as well.  Of course, I think that title could aptly describe any one's biography, but he actually addresses the idea of the title in one of his essays (the same one with the professor).
I enjoyed his writing, but I tend to prefer longer narratives.  As a result, I think I will have to add his fiction to my list for later to make a true determination about how I feel about him as an author.

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