Two books in one in a flip dos-à-dos format: The story of Aleksandar Hemon’s parents’ immigration from Sarajevo to Canada and a book of short memories of the author’s family, friends, and childhood in Sarajevo
In My Parents, Aleksandar Hemon tells the story of his parents’ immigration to Canada—of the lives that were upended by the war in Bosnia and siege of Sarajevo and the new lives his parents were forced to build. As ever with his work, he portrays both the perfect, intimate details (his...
Time Passes in Sentences
Photography and text by Aleksandar Hemon
A pair of memoirs bound as one volume, Aleksandar Hemon’s My Parents and This Does Not Belong to You explore the author’s sense of identity, his homeland’s history, his parents’ immigration, and his own coming-of-age in “rapturously poetic” (Kirkus Reviews) prose.
While My Parents is an “ardently precise and analytical” (Booklist) portait of his parents, This Does Not Belong to You is a “sometimes lively and sensual, sometimes bleakly ruminative” (Publishers Weekly) and impressionistic series of the author’s boyhood recollections. The books are divided at the center by a collection of his personal family photographs.
Below, we’ve compiled some of our favorite photographs from the book and installed them alongside some of our favorite lines for a wholly unique and optimally condensed experience of the Hemons and their storied lives.
When I was a boy, I wanted to be a historian.
For the world to exist there have to be objects, and inside those objects there has to be nothing, and inside that nothing there must be memories, and inside those memories there are snakes.
A memory, like a picture, is a model of reality.
Take this thing you’re reading. I could’ve assembled a different version of it from an alternative set of fragments; I could’ve been borne of different parts; I could’ve assembled someone else. I could’ve tried to kill my little sister and then pretend that I didn’t know what I was doing because I was a little boy. I could have read a lot of books, including, repeatedly, The Paul Street Boys (Junaci Pavlove Ulice), which would’ve led me to organize the boys in my building into a makeshift military unit that would fight a number of battles and wars against other, similar boys. I could’ve been a boy who listened to ABBA, watched them win the Eurovision contest with “Waterloo” and had a long-lasting crush on Agnetha (the blonde). I could’ve had a different best friend, named Boris, who left for Belgrade in the sixth grade, and whom I once beat up out of jealousy, and who’d visit his grandmother in the summer, which we’d spend playing chess and listening to the Stranglers. I could’ve made a different original decision and written all this in Bosnian, my mother tongue, which is both different and the same as srpskohrvatski ili hrvatskosrpski, and thereby avoid all the heartbreaking explanations of things that would be—to everyone who exists and existed within that world—entirely self-evident and plain. I could’ve been a different person, someone who never hurt a fly, who would never hurt a fly. Instead, here we are, you and I.
If I remember, I know not only that I have lived but also that I’m alive. Death takes place when you can’t recall the moment that precedes the present moment. What were we just talking about? Time passes in sentences.
Only that which is difficult or impossible to remember is worth remembering. Only that which is hard or impossible to say is worth saying.
roša—The hole in the ground where you wanted to put your kliker so as to have power to eliminate others.
ponte—Used when demanding of the other players that they throw their kliker toward the roša, where yours is sitting, empowered, waiting to eliminate them.
hopa—The last player who throws his kliker toward the roša at the beginning of each game.
predhopa—The player before the last one to throw.
slipci—Dropping two klikers together to resolve a situation in which two klikers find themselves in the roša, though that has to be agreed upon before the game.
There is more, but the list is beginning to look pathetic in its oblique nostalgia. I have reasons to believe that this particular vocabulary only made sense within my neighborhood in Sarajevo, that would’ve been entirely foreign beyond it.
Home is a place where there is a void when you’re not there; home is what your body fills out. Nowadays we live elsewhere and otherwise, but there is still nobody in our place when we are not there. When I visit, that’s where I stay. When I’m there, I’m not here. Here, there, wherever I may be, I’m always absent some-where. Home is the fragrant nothing where I am not.
Visit The Guardian for an excerpt from My Parents: An Introduction / This Does Not Belong to You by Aleksandar Hemon.