The Book Of My Lives by Aleksandar Hemon
I recently caught the end of an NPR program that hosted the author Aleksandar Hemon. Upon hearing the gentle sound of his voice on the radio speaking about his newest and first work of non-fiction, The Book of My Lives, I immediately placed it on reserve. When the book arrived and I saw the cover art, there was a picture of what Hemon describes as a blue alien, and though still prepared to read the book, I also kept hoping that it was not going to be a book of essays that included science fiction.
I was relieved that I didn't get to any part of the book that hinted at science fiction. Near the end of this easy-to-read-in-one-sitting book of essays Hemon makes reference to the blue alien, which his very young daughter created as a fictional sibling.
Here are reviews of this book. Beyond that, Hemon in this book of essays, uses the terms interiority—a sense of belonging which he felt in Sarajevo, and exteriority, the sense of alienation he first felt in Chicago after having arrived there on an International Visitors Program. This is, however, not the only instance of Hemon using interiority/exteriority as a theme—it frames all of the essays in this book. An instance of this was when he was stuck in traffic with his wife and their lives were falling apart. Hemon incisively conveys to the reader, that the world-outside-his-car couldn't possibly know what was going on inside-the-car.
Hemon situates himself, members of his family and friends in whatever-was-going-on in their lives, and because of this inherence, the reader gets to know without having to read a history book, for example, about the '90s war in Bosnia. Or, the reader gets a feel for what it is to be a writer in new surroundings by making him/herself feel at home, simply by obtaining a barber, and a butcher—he had his own barber and butcher in a place he loved, Sarajevo. This may be invaluable advice for would-be writers of personal essays, or just writers. See my previous blog, The Art Of The Personal Essay with Charles Salzberg for additional personal essay-writing suggestions.