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Sarajevo Blues Paperback – January 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For American-born Agee, now a teacher and journalist in Belfast, the height of postmodern sensibility is the West's passive response to televised Serbian war crimes, a sentiment echoed by poet Ferida Durakovic: "I declare?this is not the calm and distant face of History/ And a little pool of blood." This anthology of Bosnian poets?defined in Agee's introduction as those committed to multi-ethnic democracy?is the first available in the U.S., and includes searing prose accounts of Serbian-run death camps. But the stance of most poets found here is to find refuge from war in anecdote and imagination. As the journalist and poet Semezdin Mehmedinovic?the most satisfying writer in the collection?observes: "Everyone in Sarajevo, accustomed to death, lives through so many transcendental experiences that they have already become initiates of some deviant form of Buddhism." Here, life under siege combines a sense of doom with an absurd inner freedom. Often, as in the confident and expressive poetry of Marko Vesovic, life and death undergo difficult and intricate inversions: "It's not a thirst shooting up,/ But a growth toward the dead, spread sideways," he writes of a white hawthorn tree. The collection as a whole is of uneven quality, and the number of extravagant lines ("AS I PASS THE SO-CALLED STREETS BY THE SO-CALLED BUILDINGS/ OF OUR SO-CALLED CITY") seem at times strangely clubby and arrogant, especially when the editor juxtaposes concentration camp narratives with travel logs of foreign-born writers. Still, as Faruhdin Zilkic writes of the mark left by a passing bullet, "it's when a year later/ you recognize the scar on the stone/ where your life went on again" that survival can become poetry, and this collection lets us give thanks to its power and joy. (Dec.) FYI: Also in December, City Lights will release Semezdin Mehmedinovic's full-length U.S. debut, Sarajevo Blues ($12.95 128p ISBN 0-87286-345-X). The same month, the prolific Sarajevan poet Mario Susko's second U.S. release, Versus Exsul, is due from Yuganta (6 Rushmore Circle, Stamford, Conn. 06905, $12.95 128p ISBN 0-938999-12-5).
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Just when you think you've become "immune" to one of the greatest calamities of the century?the merciless war in Bosnia?a writer like Mehmedinovic comes along and "slaps you in the face" all over again. This collection of short stories and poems is far more than just the reminiscences of a man who not only witnessed but lived the war. Yes, perhaps we've heard this before, but how often do we really "see" this wretched, surreal, yet all too real picture of someone else's misfortune? This ability to masterfully delineate even the simplest moments but somehow remain tactfully indifferent is Mehmedinovic's most invaluable attribute?notably vivid in the short stories. It is as if you are being "pulled" into this world, where the vigor of his words and the sharpness of his eye lead the way. The next you know, you've not only read a memorable literary achievement, but it educates you about the war in a way countless journalistic accounts never could.?Mirela Roncevic, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 122 pages
  • Publisher: City Lights Publishers; First Edition edition (January 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 087286345X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872863453
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,015,344 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
A pearl of insight that should be read and reread by anybody interested in the recent Balkan wars appears on page 115 of "Sarajevo Blues." There we find, in an interview between translator Ammiel Alcalay and author Semezdin Mehmedinovic, the latter's comment that "Bosnian culture is inclusive, it includes the Bosnian Franciscan tradition (of Catholic mysticism), the Muslim Sufi tradition, and the Sephardic Jewish tradition; this is all part of my culture." This sheaf of poetry and prose sketches offers a modern transformation of such transcendental currents. "Sarajevo Blues," as it was called even in the Bosnian version, is legendary in the stricken city of Sarajevo, serving as a local souvenir for those who survived the brutal siege that struck the city beginning in 1992.
One of several disparate and more or less hurried editions, printed on the roughest newsprint and selling in the bookstores of Marshal Tito Street, retails for only three marks, or $1.80 -- a major investment for Sarajevans, who have few jobs and less money.
Mehmedinovic is a Muslim Bosnian living in the United States. Born in 1960, he was no longer young when the Bosnian conflict commenced, but his writing still bears the marks of the youthful American style -- brief but eloquent notes and comments -- that swept the world with the Beat revolution. 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.
He writes of the prayerful burial of a Muslim martyred in the fighting: "Sorrow gathers in circles under the eyes; the men pass their open palms across their faces.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. J. Smith VINE VOICE on July 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Sarajevo Blues is poetry and prose of the war in Sarajevo. It is written with the realism that one associates with Ernaux or Duras. As the author says in an interview at the end of the book: "We were completely attuned to the exterior world ... We had a real need for precision, with some belief that if we could put on paper precisely what was in the outside owrld that, in itself, would convey the emotional potential indispensable to poetry."
Thus this book makes its points simply - the cigarette wrapped in a death certificate, the recognition of the enemy in the same sweater that you wear, the pear eaten with the iman of the mosque ... the result is a book that will not permit you to view war in the abstract but rather forces you to look at war in the eyes of individual people who matter.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. E. Nelson VINE VOICE on July 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
Sarajevo Blues is a book that contains the writings of Semezdin Mehmedinovic, a Bosnian that lived through the turmoil in Sarajevo in the early 1990?s. The book contains a series of short stories and poems, most less than two pages in length.

This book is a very unique piece of literature. It is not a story of the siege, the fighting, and the dodging of snipers bullets the author experienced. The book does not tell a complete story of the war from beginning to end. I would equate the book to looking at a photo album and trying to piece together the details of a person?s life from the pictures.

The stories seem to be from the perspective of a photographer crossed with a stand-up comedian. By mentioning a comedian, I am not suggesting that the author tells funny tails of a tragic event, but rather the author seems to have unique observational skills that I have seen in comics. He is able to capture a moment in time like a photographer and analyze the ?photo? and observe events that most people would not even realized occurred (much like a stand-up comic). The result is a series of bone-chilling short writings that (to me) showed a side of war that I never thought about. One story discusses the idea that the enemy may wear the same sweater that you do. Another story discusses how casual war has become as the author writes about seeing a woman sunbathing, getting up occasionally to launch an artillery shell into the city, then resume sunbathing, just to repeat the process minutes later. Another, one line poem shows how casual humans take war when a person is called into the house because it is ?grenading outside?. One of my favorite writings, the author discusses the idea of photographers trading in death to make their livelihood.
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