My Parents: An Introduction/This Does Not Belong to You
(MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28)
The Yugoslavia of Aleksandar Hemon’s new memoir might look surprisingly familiar to American readers, said Randy Rosenthal in the Los Angeles Times. Hemon’s parents are refugees of civil war; they have lived in Canada since escaping the siege of Sarajevo in 1992, and their novelist son is now sharing their story to explore how history shapes our lives and sense of self. The older Hemons were part of the first generation raised in Tito’s Yugoslavia, a country patched together after World War II, and that meant they benefited from a boom that created a middle class. Hemon’s mother was born in a home with a dirt floor. But because girls her age were the first to be sent to school, she wound up with a college degree, a stable profession, and a weekend home she and her husband dreamed of retiring to. It all fell apart suddenly.
Hemon quietly suggests that something similar could happen here, said Mark Athitakis in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. But he’s less interested in political prognostication than in what exile from a homeland and its communal dream does to people like his parents and himself. His mother and father believed in Tito-style socialism in a way he never did, and its failure left them bereft. “He can’t be—doesn’t want to be—his parents. But who can he be instead?” Hemon has split his book in such a way that after you finish reading about his parents, you flip the volume over and encounter a series of short, impressionistic recollections of his own Yugoslavian boyhood. Much of the material is darkly comic, said Kate Tuttle in Newsday. It also represents “some of the best writing about what it really feels like to be a child that I can recall reading.”
Hemon is a great writer, and that makes the crisis he’s experiencing especially acute, said Ryu Spaeth in The New Republic. An author typically believes that by describing the world truthfully “he can somehow control it.” Hemon is suggesting, however, that he and his parents are also defined by their relationship to a place now vanished. This may seem puzzling. “But if your homeland were to disappear tomorrow, you would, in a way, disappear, too.” ■