the book of my lives / my new life

several months ago i read a book which stuck with me until now, and one i think i would be remembering (& referencing) for a long time.. i waited for the right moment to write about this book on my blog, as part of my little book club. it is aleksandar hemon’s memoir “the book of my lives”. critics praised hemon’s writing style, often comparing him to vladimir nabokov, both for their style and the fact that they both started writing in a foreign language rather late in their lives.

since i am no book critic, i will not focus on such particularities; i liked hemon’s work for other reasons. in this post i will focus on three of them and, finally, reflect further on the last one.

book_of_my_lives cover

i liked what he wrote about sarajevo, bosnia & the way people used to be before the war started. he describes sarajevo as “the world capital of gossip”, says that people of sarajevo “hated pretentiousness; it was a form of self-hatred” and later confirms what we all know.. that “there’s no word for “privacy” in bosnian”.

aleksandar hemon managed to describe the outbreak of the war as well, even to us – bosnians. as i wrote several times already, i was only seven years old when the war started and i didn’t manage to comprehend the cause of the war and what would be its outcome. years after the war had ended i understood that nobody could tell as much. as hemon wrote “i have spent time trying to comprehend how everything i had known and loved came violently apart..”. as a person who found himself abroad at the beginning of the war, he was maybe in a better position to see where we were going and where the war would lead us:  “if my mind and my city were the same thing then i was losing my mind.” finally, he wrote: “it was all over. the world had arrived and now we were all waiting to see who would live, who would kill, and who would die”. the outbreak of the war in bosnia was a defining moment in hemon’s life. just like many bosnians, he had to start a new episode: “on may 1, I didn’t fly home. on may 2, the roads out of the city were blocked; the last train (with my parents on it) departed; the longest siege in modern history began. in chicago, i submitted my application for political asylum. the rest is the rest of my life.”

my favorite part of the book was hemon’s return to sarajevo for the first time after the war had ended. or even better, his return to chicago afterwards. he wrote something which defines my feelings towards home: “when i came back from my first visit to sarajevo, in the spring of 1997, the chicago i came back to belonged to me. returning from home, i returned home.”

on 20th april i began my new life.

after seven years living in milan, i moved to vienna. meaning: a new city, a new language and a new life.

i had moved a few times already, for the first time when i was fifteen – i left the town i grew up in and moved to sarajevo. four years later, after i had finished high-school, i went to malaysia where i stayed for another four years. even though moving to malaysia might seem like more of a change, i would say that leaving home when i was fifteen was a defining moment in my life. it meant the change of lifestyle. it meant that i would no longer live with my parents, that i would have more freedom, but it also meant that i would be on my own. after graduation, i moved again. this time closer to home, to italy. unlike with the previous episodes, i didn’t have any idea how long the new episode would last, since it did not involve school or uni. as it turned out, it was the longest one – i had been living in italy for seven years before i decided it was time for me to move on.

so, here i am. at the beginning of a new life. i have to say that all my lives taught me what i had to learn, and all of them were very interesting, exciting and sometimes exhausting. each of my lives brought me a new hometown, a new language and many interesting people to meet.

however, my new life will be slightly different from my previous ones. i will have support – my husband, the reason i am here.

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the elegance of the hedgehog

“i think that grammar is a way to attain beauty. when you speak, or read, or write, you can tell if you’ve said or read or written a fine sentence. you can recognize a well-turned phrase or an elegant style. but when you are applying the rules of grammar skillfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language. when you use grammar you peel back the layers, to see how it is all put together…”
— muriel barbery, the elegance of the hedgehog

50_theeleganceofthehedgehog

while the book “the elegance of the hedgehog” is not among my favorites, this particular quote is the one i found to be a reason to read this book. the plot of the book is quite simple, it’s focus is on two characters: renée michel, a 54-year old concierge who loves literature, philosophy and japanese art, and paloma josse, a twelve-year-old girl who lives in a building where renée works and who considers her family quite phony. renée and paloma develop quite unusual friendship which influences the lives of both of them.

the book is known to deal with several important topics of today, such as class consciousness and conflict, but it gives enough space for diverse discussions on philosophy and literature.. and, as mentioned previously, languages.

i’ve given a lot of thought about the introductory quote of this post. before reading this book, i never realized how much i paid attention to grammar, both when speaking my mother tongue and when learning foreign languages. i used to say that grammar is like a math -> you can analyze the grammar rules in the same way you perform addition, subtraction, etc. i used to love languages whose rules are quite clear, and where you don’t find many exceptions. but, once i encountered the language where the rules weren’t as straight forward, i managed to find the beauty even in the exceptions and irregularities (after a long battle, of course!). this book helped me understand that there is the beauty in every language, we only need to understand where it lied.

other than that, this book is special to me for one more reason. when i finished reading it, i posted this quote on my facebook wall. but i also wrote a comment that the book was very well written, too bad that the translation in bosnian was not as good as it could be and that maybe reading it in english or italian would make me like it even more (the book is originally in french, but unfortunately, i don’t speak it). couple of months later, my friend alma sent me her copy of the book in english, all the way from new york! i couldn’t believe she remembered that.

so, yes. this book is important to me for making me enjoy studying foreign languages and understanding there is certain kind of beauty in every language; while some languages have lovely melody, others may have “to-the-point” expressions or clear grammar rules. but also, it reminds me of alma and her amazing gesture.

hence, i chose this book to be my fiftieth post on “on the importance of small things”, as well as to celebrate my 2 year anniversary on wordpress.com!

dragons rush in

“tell me, how does the world see us? as savages?” asked darko.
“no,” i said, “i actually think the problem is that the world doesn’t see you at all”.
— bill carter, “fools rush in”

sarajevo, 1993. bill carter, a young american, decides to come to bosnia and herzegovina to join a small group of volunteers who are trying to help people who UN cannot reach. while living in sarajevo, he managed to get in touch with locals and got to know what was hiding behind those tired and pale faces. always wanting to help more, he finally managed to draw the world’s attention to this corner of the world by getting in touch with one of the greatest rock bands ever – U2. the outcome were his documentary and a U2 song “miss sarajevo”, as well as his book “fools rush in”, which i’m currently reading.

i’m still not finished with it; after reading something similar to i’ve written above, it gets quite difficult to continue. even though i was a child during the war, and i wasn’t able to comprehend everything, all those feelings came back, rushing.. how scared we were.. how helpless we felt.. but how hopeful we were, in a vain hope that someone will hear us and come help us.

oh, and the other thing which really got to me – how the foreigners found bosnia and herzegovina so beautiful.. her high mountains, green rivers and lovely little towns. and i could only think of all those places back home and felt extremely nostalgic.

bosnia_1

twenty years later, football team of bosnia and herzegovina (widely known as “dragons”) managed to qualify for the world cup in brasil, after being eliminated in the play-offs four years earlier.

tonight we will have our first match in the world cup in history, and we will fight argentina. as much as i am proud to see our boys together with one of the greatest teams of this year’s tournament, i have to admit i am really really nervous!

what i find amazing is the fact that major part of these football players have double-citizenship, given that most of them grew up elsewhere due to the war, but still they chose to play for our bosnia and herzegovina.

one thing is sure though, tonight the world will finally see us for who we really are.

dragons_2

so, go dragons (of bosnia)! make us proud!
and please keep in mind that no matter what happens tonight, you are the reason we feel proud to be bosnians!

kafka on the shore

“kafka on the shore”, a tour through a metaphysical reality follows the two very odd characters: a teenage boy, kafka tamura, who runs away from home either to escape an oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an older man nakata, who never recovered from a childhood accident, happened during world war II, and now is drawn toward kafka for reasons that he cannot explain.

for the good part of the book, i was trying to understand and rationalize what was happening, but it kept on getting more mysterious as i was reaching to an end. only when i decided to relax, try to accept its mysteriousness and see what happens, i realized how amazing this book is and how much i like it!

kafka on the shore

once i got rid of my habit to try to connect and comprehend everything (yes, i’m an engineer afterall), i came across to many interesting quotes, which i wrote down, as usual.

the first set of quotes i am to present here are advises on how to overcome certain situations we all might be facing.

“whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.”

“listen, every object is a flux. the earth, time, concepts, love, life, faith, justice, evil – they’re all fluid and in transion. they don’t stay in one form or in one place forever.”

“a certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect.”

this book also focuses on the past moments and memories. its characters are highly nostalgic; however they remind us even though we should keep our memories always with us, we still have to let some things go and move on.

“people need a place they can go back to. there’s still time to make it, i think. for me, and for you.”

“memories warm you up from the inside. but they also tear you apart.”

as usual, i saved my favorite quote for last.

“if you remember me, then i don’t care if everyone else forgets.”

i dedicate it to all those who were my biggest support in the past year, my husband, my sister, and to my close friends.. and one in particular.. to my friend samira, who always looks at things from another point of view and who enjoyed “kafka on the shore” as much as i did.

dreams of the great gatsby

last weekend i went to see the movie “the great gatsby”, the movie that was advertised for a while now, and i thought it could be worth watching it in the cinema. so, we went to see it; even though we were in vienna (where english movies are translated in german), we found it in english.

i have to admit, my expectations were high, since i was quite taken by the book. and i also have to say, i wasn’t deceived. the movie was so dreamy, it made me think about the 20ties, those parties, lovely dresses and about new york as it used to be back then. i found it quite interesting how they used the contemporary music & adapted it to the 20ties’ style. i also recalled couple of quotes i wrote down when i was reading the book “the great gatsby”. i was equally moved when i heard them on the movie as i was when i read them.

19_great gatsby

the first quote is the first sentence of the book:

“in my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that i’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.””

when i first read this sentence i asked myself if this is an advice or a warning against criticism. it seems like a warning, but there is no direct injunction against criticism, just the reminder about inequality when “feeling like criticizing anyone.” i guess we should all keep this in mind when we start criticizing or judging someone. we never know what this person has been through or where did he/she come from.

“he smiled understandingly — much more than understandingly. it was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. it faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. it understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”

gatsby’s smile seems to be an important part his character, it is a result of the combination of hope and imagination. here the focus is on the ability to make anyone he smiles at feel as though he has chosen that person out of “the whole external world,” reflecting that person’s most optimistic conception of him- or herself. i wish there are more people like that nowadays, i wish we could all give each other support, hope and optimism, because.. we sure do need them.

“gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. it eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther.. and then one fine morning—
so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past..”

the novel is concluded with these words. it reminds us on the importance of the past to dreams of the future, here represented by the green light. the focus is on the one’s struggle to achieve his/her goals by both transcending and re-creating the past. however, most of the people prove themselves unable to move beyond the past: in the metaphoric language used here, the current draws us backward as we try to reach the green light.

as i walked out of the cinema, i felt a combination of hope and nostalgia. i remembered the old times & the old issues and i wondered if i managed to surpass them. well, i have to admit, some scars have remained, somewhere deep down.. but i don’t give up.. i believe the best is yet to come.

leggere lolita a teheran / reading lolita in tehran

last night i finished a book i was reading for last couple of months. as i said, i’m a slow reader. it doesn’t mean i didn’t like it, in my view it required time. after every couple of chapters i would stop to think for a while, since i could relate to what was going on in the book.

lolita

reading lolita in tehran is written by azar nafisi, iranian writer and university professor. my copy was in italian, since it was a birthday gift from my friend sonja. it’s a memoir book, nafisi writes about her life in iran, starting with forming a book club with several of her best female students, reflects on islamic revolution, remembers 8 year-long war between iraq and iran, and ends the book with her decision to leave her motherland.

the quotes i’ve chosen are related to three topics which got me thinking. those are the war, the inner world which we can create within ourselves and nostalgia for one’s motherland.

war

“la guerra finì com’era cominciata, all’improvviso e in silenzio. almeno questo fu la nostra impressione. le sue conseguenze, però, ce le saremmo portate dietro a lungo, forse per sempre.”

“the war ended the way it had started, suddenly and quietly. at least that is how it seemed to us. the effects of the war would stay with us for a long time, perhaps forever.”

this is exactly how i feel about bosnian war and its consequences. even though it didn’t affect my family as much, our lives changed completely. my motherland is not what it used to be before the war.

inner world

“ho detto che ci incontravamo nel mio soggiorno per proteggerci dalla realtà esterna. ho anche detto che quella realtà continuava a pretendere la nostra attenzione, come un bambino viziato che non vuole concedere ai poveri genitori nemmeno un attimo di tregua. influenzava i nostri momenti di intimità, ne cambiava le forme, ci precipitava in un’improvvisa e inaspettata complicità. arrivavamo a conoscerci a fondo in tanti modi diversi. non soltanto le attività più ordinarie acquistavano una luce tutta nuova, per via di quel nostro segreto; era la stessa vita quotidiana, nella sua interezza, che a volte finiva per assomigliare alla finzione.”

“i have said that we were in that room to protect ourselves from the reality outside. i have also said that this reality imposed itself on us, like a petulant child who would not give his frustrated parents a moment to themselves. it created and shaped our intimacies, throwing us into unexpected complicity. Our relations became personal in many different ways. not only did the most ordinary activities gain a new luminosity in the light of our secret, but everyday life sometimes took on the quality of make-believe or fiction.”

i was often told i live in my own little world, ever since i was little. until reading this book i would often think that maybe i was too much introvert, overly closed to outer world and i that should open up a bit. now i know i need my own space (just like everyone else) in order to understand reality and to carry on with my dreams and goals.

nostalgia

“ho lasciato l’iran, ma l’iran non ha lasciato me.”
“i left iran, but iran did not leave me.”

oh i could so relate to this. i believe all of us who left our home felt at least once this way.
nafisi managed to capture what i haven’t been able to do ever since i decided to leave bosnia.

i left bosnia, but bosnia did not leave me.
napustila sam bosnu, ali bosna mene nije napustila.

1984

i attempted to read 1984, by george orwell, at least three times before i actually managed to finish it. maybe it was because i had quite busy schedule (it was my last semester in the university), maybe the copy i had borrowed from the library was too old, or maybe this reaction was due to the orwell’s writing style. well, it’s not important, once i got passed the first 50 pages, and actually managed to finish it, i absolutely loved it. it became one of my favorite books.

it was published in 1949 and i think it is getting more and more haunting, since we can witness how its prediction are coming true. the brilliance of this novel is author’s prescience of modern life — the omnipresence of television and media in general, the distortion of the language and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell.

quotes i underlined and copied were but a few, however, i will write here only those i find truly inspiring and those which make me think about my future life and future of the world.

“who controls the past, controls the future; who controls present, controls the past. and yet, the past though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. whatever was true now, was true from everlasting to everlasting. it was quite simple. all that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory.”

“it was like swimming against a current that swept you backwards however hard you struggled, and then suddenly deciding to turn round and go with the current instead of opposing it. nothing had changed except your own attitude.”

“the best books, he perceived, are those that tell you what you know already.”

and finally,

“war is peace. freedom is slavery. ignorance is strength.”– party slogan

a couple of years ago i got a perfect present from my mum. a keychain with 1984 written on it. it is actually a product of marc jacobs company, and 1984 denoted the year of label marc jacobs, hence – since 1984.

1984

it was a birthday present and it doesn’t remind me of george orwell’s novel only. i’m also since 1984.

bookmarks & quotes

even if not a compulsive reader (i’m not one of those who read the entire book in one sitting, stopping only for meals), i love reading. when it comes to books, just like with everything else, i’m quite choosy, so i won’t start reading a random book just to have something to read. books i read are chosen carefully, checking the reviews & all, although sometimes i make a mistake and i end up reading a book for year or so (and in the meantime, i read a couple of other books, as well).

books also helped me learning new languages. my mother tongue is bosnian, english is the language i’ve learned at school, for two years i attended a german language course, and currently i’m working in italy, so italian is also among languages i speak. since i have the option, i tend to choose reading in the original language, and when impossible, on the language from the same family of languages.

when reading, i take my sweet time to finish it. due to quite demanding job and busy schedule, i read usually in metro or trains and before going to bed. however, when coming across an interesting quote, i tend to write it down.

couple of months ago i got a perfect present from my sister. little box of bookmarks, each having a quote written on it. and in german! i’ve been trying to review my german for a while now, and this could be a good start.

der kleine zettelkasten grosse wahrheiten, or the little box of big truths, contains over twenty wonderful quotes of german writers.

kolaz 1

and with this i open a new category on my blog – a book club, where i will try to remember all those quotes i’ve written over the years and which i still find relevant. the first quote is one of the quotes from the little box of truths:

kolaz 2

“vielleicht sind alle träume nur erinnerungen”, or “perhaps are all the dreams just memories”,
christian friedrich hebbel