28 July 2006

remember they are dust

Jergovic teaches me about Bosnian curses. He explains that they are not intended to frighten people, but to prove that the locals have an imagination. I wonder if the same can be said for storytelling. Maybe the whole point of this collection of short stories is to show the world that Miljenko Jergovic can write imaginatively about Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A lot of the stories here seem unreal. Although I am aware that it is a work of fiction, I expected snippets of reality. Then I realised that I have never been to Bosnia. And even if I had I would only have been a visitor, a tourist. Don’t the tales of cities that are not our own always seem mythical and magical? Maybe that is the beauty of Jergovic’s stories and maybe they are designed for those who come from foreign lands.

The final story deals with the burning of libraries in Sarajevo as they are bombed along with the rest of the city. As he recalls the sound and the smell of a building being destroyed, he invites me to remember the books of my childhood, the books I read now. And perhaps his final sentence ‘Gently stroke your books, dear stranger and remember they are dust’ says it all. I am no different to Jergovic, we appreciate books. I am a world apart from him – I do not know the smell of burning books.

the navigator

16 July 2006

you have to see the waterfalls

We are going to Jajce - a city in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. A city with a castle and a waterfall of its own. We are on a bus. People are smoking Marlboro cigarettes, the smoke is ever present as the title of the book suggests. It burns my throat.

Jergovic, the author and the man leading me on this excursion speaks from the point of view of a child. In a city where I cannot speak the language or understand the cultural differences, I may as well be an infant myself.
I feel unsure of where he is taking me. I want to cry "Are we there yet?". But I fear he may not hear me.

We pass a site where a car has crashed. Jergovic's child narrator comments on what he sees. ‘A glimpse of a mangled Fiat, a hand hanging out of the window’.
I don’t know if this is important, but I make a mental note. Maybe it’s just part of the scenery, maybe it holds greater meaning. I just don’t know. But the suspense is thrilling me…

the navigator