Mehmedinovic, Semezdin 1960–
Mehmedinovic, Semezdin 1960–
PERSONAL: Born 1960, in Tuzla, Bosnia; immigrated to Sarajevo, Yugoslavia; immigrated to United States, 1996.
ADDRESSES: Home—Alexandria, VA. Agent—c/o Author Mail, City Lights Books, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.
Sarajevo Blues: pojmovnik opsjednutog (poems, short stories, and vignettes), Svjetlost (Sarajevo, Yugoslavia), 1992, translated from the Bosnian as Sarajevo Blues, introduction by Ammiel Alcalay, City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 1998.
Nine Alexandrias (poems), translated from the Bosnian with preface by Ammiel Alcalay, City Lights Books (San Francisco, CA), 2003.
Contributor of poems to publications such as Triquarterly.
SIDELIGHTS: Bosnian poet and writer Semezdin Mehmedinovic came to the United States in 1996 as a political refugee. A Muslim, he saw first-hand the devastation of the Bosnian conflict on his homeland and on locations such as Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. Mehmedinovic's collection of poems, short stories, and vignettes, Sarajevo Blues, portrays stark images and poignant moments from everyday life in the war-blasted city. The author's detached presentation and underplayed description "forcefully conveys a sense of the utter helplessness of his characters," commented Vesna Neskow in the New York Times Book Review.
"With considerable effectiveness, Mehmedinovic has synthesized the sentimental traditions and idealistic illusions of the Sarajevans, the horrors of the war and the disillusionment of its victims with an indifferent world," observed Stephen Schwartz in the San Francisco Chronicle. The book "is legendary in the stricken city of Sarajevo," Schwartz observed, noting that the work serves as a sort of medal of honor or souvenir for those who survived the 1992 siege. Poverty-stricken Sarajevans, short of resources and hope, gladly parted with the three marks (less than two dollars) for a crudely printed edition, according to Schwartz.
In Mehmedinovic's wrenching and sometimes surreal work, a Serbian woman interrupts her sunbathing session to occasionally operate a rocket launcher and lob a shell at some random point in the city. A mental patient, expelled from the hospital by Serb terrorists, holds a dead bird by the claws and tells passers-by, "You'll be dead, too, when my army gets here." A man contemplates a gift of soap and a towel from a woman who washes the dead, and considers with bitter irony that he is also a dead man, seeking to wash himself with hot water. War correspondents search the city for news and photographs as a resident realizes that a press photograph of him getting shot by a sniper is worth more than his actual life.
"Mehmedinovic's book is an incisive answer to the claim by the German philosopher Theodor Adorno that poetry could not be written after Auschwitz," com-mented Schwartz, referring to the infamous Nazi concentration camp. "Poetry survived Auschwitz, and poetry has survived the atrocities of Bosnia, but it is a grim genre of verse." The book is not only "a memorable literary achievement, but it educates you about the war in a way countless journalistic accounts never could," observed Mirela Roncevic in Library Journal. Sarajevo Blues also includes an interview between Mehmedinovic and translator Ammiel Alcalay, that provides "a thoughtful, moving analysis of his life as a writer, both in Bosnia and in exile," Neskow remarked.
Mehmedinovic's collection Nine Alexandrias contains three sequences of poems tied together by the concept that there are nine cities in the United States called Alexandria. Two of the sequences, "while purposely understated, are as good as anything published in English this year," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The title sequences explore the sense of place and the ease with which one can move across the country from one Alexandria to another. "This Door Is Not an Exit" "reflects on exile in the aftermath of violence, death and continued political insolubility," the Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, adding that this theme connects this text with Mehmedinovic's other works on the aftermath of war in Bosnia and Sarajevo. The last sequence in the book, "8 Things about Cadillac," reflects on the variety of social, cultural, and economic meanings attached to the word Cadillac in the United States, including the irony of a luxury car named after a destroyed people and the perpetual cultural resonance of the Cadillac in which former U.S. president John F. Kennedy was riding when he was assassinated.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, January, 1999, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of Sarajevo Blues, pp. 101-102.
Library Journal, December, 1998, Mirela Roncevic, review of Sarajevo Blues, p. 105.
New York Times Book Review, February 7, 1999, Vesna Neskow, review of Sarajevo Blues, p. 16.
Publishers Weekly, October 27, 2003, review of Nine Alexandrias, p. 59.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 10, 1999, Stephen Schwartz, review of Sarajevo Blues, p. 5.