Love And Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon

"When he was young, like me, he said, he used to think that all the great writers knew something he didn't... He was burning to write, he wanted to break through to that fancy knowledge, he was hungry for it. But now he knew that that hunger was vainglorious; now he knew that writers knew nothing, really; most of them were just faking it. He knew nothing. There was nothing to know, nothing on the other side." – The Noble Truth of Suffering
There was nothing to know...
You know me and short stories–I shan't revisit old graves–but every now and again I find a collection, usually with one author, that simply blows me away. Something in them speaks to personae I didn't even know I hid behind. Something rips free the mask, the fiercely clutched identity, fake as you like, and exposes everything. Those authors I fall madly in love with, because I hate them. I detest that they can say things that are as yet unformed zygotes in the barren womb of my mind, not even the germ of a clumsy, badly phrased expression at the back of my raw, dry throat. Up to now, despite clues and suspicions to the contrary, I thought it was because they were 'great writers' and I was a simple hack. Now, when even thinly veiled biography such as this, and also Karl Ove Knausgaard, of whom much, much more to follow, lays bare the shared terror of creation, of freedom of expression, of working to no rule, I feel that I am simply at the bottom of a ladder, much climbed by those with a little more passion, a little more dedication than I, and that the answer for me might be on the next rung up, or the next, or the next, or on none of them, but that the goal of the climb is not to reach the top, but to  experience the climb. "There was no walker, no path, just the walking," says Pulitzer Prize-winning Buddhistish author Dick Macalister in The Noble Truths of Suffering.

Of course, all this aggrandised meandering is leading up to an expression of love for Aleksandar Hemon. He's an astounding writer, this Chicago-based Bosnian (and fan of Liverpool Football Club, dreamy sigh), and in his first-person narrated stories of just such a child, youth and man, there is energy, clarity, humour and despair, all hinged around a fulcrum of such astute observation, sometimes delivered entirely objectively, that I was left breathless with how far I might need to go to follow in his footsteps. I'd read a few of his others, perhaps not giving them the credit they were due, but I was a fan from the off. This has knocked me down and sat me back up again with a snifter of brandy. And around behind it all, much like any fiction written in or around New York post-9/11, sneaks the atrocity of the Balkan conflict, which often throws the narrator into relief with it's burning horror and dazzling absurdity. In one story, a young boy is charged with travelling across the country to purchase a chest freezer, during a few comic pratfalls but eventually succeeding, the family stocks it full of meat only for the war to each Sarajevo and the power to go off. "Everything in the chest freezer thawed, rotted in less than a week, and finally perished." In another, a bedraggled refugee from Bosnia arrives to rent a room in the flat of an idiosyncratic Ukrainian, whose rules he silently follows, until evicted by a poem. 

I risk letting too many cats out of bags by giving outlines to these stories, and they need to be considered in their entirety to justify the scope of Hemon's talent. Needless to say, I would urge you to put your hands on a copy of this and immerse yourself in a steady torrent of great writing, if only for a short while.

Comments

Did you see...?