Two very different memoirs within the same cover address memory, identity, history, and mortality from different perspectives.
Having established himself as a brilliant novelist (The Making of Zombie Wars, 2015, etc.) and memoirist (The Book of My Lives, 2013), MacArthur and Guggenheim fellow Hemon offers a structural challenge in these back-to-back memoirs, where the end of the book finds a fresh beginning, with no direction as to in which order they should be read. In My Parents: An Introduction, the author takes a deep dive into the lives and marriage of his Ukrainian father and Bosnian mother and their lives before and after the devastating war that tore apart their Yugoslavian homeland and drove them to Canada. His father is a storytelling natural who rarely reads and disdains fiction: “I am not going to read made-up stuff only because it’s nicely written,” he insists. His mother reads voraciously. As chapters illuminate the cultural significance of food, music, literature, and so much else within their extended families, Hemon rebels against both parents, but what he resists most strongly is their aging and the inevitability of their dying. Ultimately, it is a memoir of mortality, of memory, of what endures. This Does Not Belong to You is more of a series of coming-of-age fragments, some rapturously poetic, covering much of the same ground of the family’s years before the war but with the focus on the author as a young boy and man rather than on his parents. He struggles to understand what he understands better now, and he feels a sense of loss now over what he experienced then. It provides the seeds for his sense of identity and for his germination as a writer. Eventually, he finds his narrative and shows that there could have been many others.
An incisive combination of literature that addresses the function of literature and memories that explore the meaning of memory.