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 mother’s lonely upbringing, his father’s fanatical beekeeping) and a sweeping, heartbreaking history of his native country. It is a story full of many Hemons, of course—his parents, sister, uncles, cousins—and also of German occupying forces, Yugoslav partisans, royalist Serb collaborators, singing Ukrainians, and a few befuddled Canadians.
My Parents is Hemon at his very best, grounded in stories lovingly polished by retelling, but making them exhilarating and fresh in writing, summoning unexpected laughs in the midst of the heartbreaking narratives. This Does Not Belong to You, meanwhile, is the exhilarating, freewheeling, unabashedly personal companion to My Parents—a perfect dose of Hemon at his most dazzling and untempered in a series of beautifully distilled memories and observations and explosive, hilarious, poignant miniatures. Presented dos-à-dos with My Parents, it complements and completes a major work from a major writer.
In the words of Colum McCann, “Aleksandar Hemon is, quite frankly, the greatest writer of our generation.” Hemon has never been better than here in these pages. And the moment has never been more ready for his voice, nor has the world ever been more in need of it.
“Hemon has always played with boundaries—of places, of selves—exploring how lines that can be so porous and contingent could also matter so much . . . There’s a fatalism that suffuses This Does Not Belong to You, an overwhelming sense of mortality and the suspicion that storytelling might never be enough. This despair is leavened by what Hemon so beautifully and concretely conveys in My Parents, with Hemon as a middle-aged son who is carefully and movingly trying to make sense of it all.”—Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
"Moving . . . Hemon at his most contemplative, whimsical, and personal. He’s written autobiographical fiction and a collection of personal essays, but This Does Not Belong to You being his most fragmented work, reflects his truest self . . . This Does Not Belong to You is Hemon looking deeply into himself, mining the recesses of his mind . . . it is, like My Parents, a joy to join in the reflection.”—Barry Rosenthal, Los Angeles Times
“A witty, mournful two-in-one memoir. In My Parents: An Introduction, Hemon explores his parents’ history and melancholy relationships to food, music, marriage and other cultural touchstones. In This Does Not Belong to You, Hemon contemplates his inheritance. In either case, the mood is anxious. To be a Hemon is to be watchful, and what you’re watching for is the other shoe dropping.”—Mark Athitakis, The Minneapolis Star Tribune
“His latest two-books-in-one memoir makes clear that a penchant for narrative—not to mention beekeeping, folk singing and righteous grievance—runs in his immigrant family."—Julia M. Klein, Chicago Tribune
“These two new books are bound together in a single volume . . . [they] meet, like hemispheres, in the middle. Together, they constitute the poles of Hemon’s world: history and memoir, reality and myth, realism and the avant-garde.”—Ryu Spaeth, The New Republic
“[In] Hemon’s gorgeous new dual memoir . . . The writing contains both immediacy and a thrillingly historical long view . . . There is all the love and frustration here that anyone feels for their aging parents, with the additional heft of sympathy for their pain . . . While My Parents unrolls in great skeins of storytelling, its companion book, This Does Not Belong to You, is a series of short, spikier pieces, untitled, none longer than a single paragraph . . . some of the best writing about what it really feels like to be a child that I can recall reading."—Kate Tuttle, Newsday
“Novelist Hemon brings his piercing sardonic vision to a perfectly matched dual book.”—Jane Ciabattari, BBC
“Hemon continues to chronicle his family history with abundant skill and artistry.”—The A.V. Club
“Hemon resists, redefines and liberates his prose from genre labels by incorporating multiple forms and styles throughout each work. For Hemon, as a writer and professor, it is not about what a piece of writing 'is' in a categorical sense, but rather how to employ the possibilities of language to construct complex narrative spaces.”—S. Fedowsi, New City
“Two very different memoirs within the same cover address memory, identity, history, and mortality from different perspectives . . . [My Parents 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 . . . An incisive combination of literature that addresses the function of literature and memories that explore the meaning of memory”—Kirkus Reviews
“Hemon’s newest, most delving nonfiction work . . . [My Parents] incorporates the complicated histories of Bosnia and Yugoslavia, studded with cultural touchstones, in his ardently precise and analytical portraits of his parents, while in This Does Not Belong to You he deepens the art of the vignette with sensuous and emotional veracity as he shares scorching moments from his Sarajevo childhood . . . Bracing candor, gruff tenderness, righteous anger, and political astuteness, [are] all conveyed with Hemon’s signature intensity, mordant wit, and creative bite."—Donna Seaman, Booklist
"My Parents follows his father and mother as they rose from impoverished rural backgrounds to enjoy the communist 'Yugoslav Dream' . . . This Does Not Belong to You is an impressionistic, darker-edged sheaf of Hemon’s boyhood memories . . . Sometimes lively and sensual, sometimes bleakly ruminative, Hemon’s recollections unite his dazzling prose style with a captivating personal narrative.”—Publishers Weekly
Reviews from Goodreads
The story goes that my mother’s grandfather Živko was going back home on his horse-drawn sleigh after a winter night of drinking and gambling, when he ran into a couple of terrifying giants blocking...