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Freshwater pearl about the Bosnia war

Reading Faruk Sehic's novel is like washing off the gray dust of everyday language and the sweaty smell of political dichotomies.


Faruk Sehic: Quiet flows the Una. Istros Books, 2016

"The whole is the only thing that can cure people of our time." This was stated by Norwegian author Liv Køltzow on the P2 program The lounge this fall, in connection with the launch of her latest book – a book she has written with a heavy Parkinson's disorder. The road from here to a young Bosnian writer who writes about the Bosnia war in the 1990 century may seem long, but they both remind us that literature can be vital.

Genre Blanding. Sehic's book deals with several levels of wholeness and continuity. On an underlying level, he criticizes today's preoccupation with information rather than insight and intuition, while the more general narrative is about a human being devastated by war and trying to put himself back together. The novel is a complicated interweaving of dreams, memories, poetry and storytelling, with clear psychoanalytic features. The book is illustrated by the Bosnian cartoonist Aleksandra Nina Knezevic, and her playful pen underlines the surreal traits and longing for an innocent and harmonious childhood, as well as the black humor that characterizes much Eastern European literature.

It takes time before we get to know anything specific about the novel's protagonist, and the first we encounter is his evil alter ego, in the book's introductory phrase: "Sometimes I'm not me, I'm Gargano. He, the other, is the real me: the one from the shadow, the one from the water. Blue, frail and helpless. The dissolved identity is personified through Gargano, and it is no coincidence that the most stable part of him is the one representing the hatred and the mind.

Sehic criticizes today's perception of information rather than insight and intuition.

The elixir of hatred. The story flows through a happy childhood until Yugoslavia is torn apart from within in 1992. Mustafa Husar, Gargano's shadow, ends up in the front line on the banks of the river Una, and as a Bosnian Muslim he belongs to one of the most hated ethnic groups. Hating becomes not only his survival technique, but also an elixir and a dangerous temptation: "If you're ever asked for a nutshell definition of war, you can go ahead and say, 'It's like a double' End of the World ', with whipped cream, only much, much better. ' It's a plague of snakes the color of the sun and the moon, and we make love with them all night beneath the open sky. " This is refreshingly far removed from the political language's penchant for dichotomies. Sehic shows that it is completely human to hate and to be attracted to power and violence, at the same time as it can infiltrate the nerves in barbed wire for the foreseeable future.

I get associations to, among other things, the TV series Generation Kill about the first American invasion of Iraq in 2003, where the war experience is presented as a cocaine trip where the stalemate is a greater enemy than the Islamists. In the last scene of the series, the fraternity cracks as they gather to watch a video of the experiences they have gone through. The state of internal war is conditioned by a constant presence, which intoxication often gives, but it does not tolerate reflection and has no room for emotion.

Narrative reconstruction. Mustafa Husar grew up with the healing power of the river Una in its vicinity. The villagers could sit for hours and watch the river flow, and one of the strongest memories he reproduces is when he spent three days on the riverbank to catch a trout. The name Una naturally has a symbolic meaning – it stands for the whole, the continuous. When the whole village is laid in ruins, the river is the only thing that remains. It can also symbolize a kind of regression back to the uterus. Mustafa identifies with the fish that are protected by the water, at a safe distance from the outside world; "That whole underwater turmoil of fluid tempests awakes in me only one desire: to become a fish with arms and legs." In his post-traumatic state, total regression may seem the only meaningful thing besides death. "Death is the only continuity that has not been disrupted."

The explosive power of the Bosnian novel lies in its poetic ambiguity. The protagonist emphasizes the need for a "narrative reconstruction" and the close connection between language and experience, but that this language must carry with it ambivalence, paradoxes, symbolism and metaphors. Here lies an interesting critique of the information society, where quantity often takes precedence over quality. In the chapter "Spring" this emerges when he tells about what cannot be captured by words: "What hung in the air was impossible to describe: something shapeless and green that stubbornly refused to find its word. It was that experience that points to human stupidity and ignorance – our horrible desire to explain everything for ourselves, to order and systemize things and then write a book about them, which will become a canon for fools who do not trust their own brains and emotions. " Quiet Flows the Una is a defense of the subjective experience, and thus also of art and literature.

Hating becomes not only a survival technique, but also an elixir and a dangerous temptation.

Award-winning testimony. This work has to a great extent deserved its prizes (including the EU Literature Prize in 2013), and I hope it finds both a Norwegian publisher and a translator who can compete with Will Firth. Statistics and information are important, but we already have great access to them. To get a glimpse of what a war experience can be, we need stories of this quality, wherever that is subjectively true is the most important thing. Perhaps this is what Sehic writes (and here he paraphrases the Argentine writer Jorge Luís Borges): "Official history is just another offshoot of blossoming fantasy. The testimony of one anonymous person is more valuable than the coldness of encyclopaedias. »

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