Monday, 19 July 2010

Adnan Mahmutović, the Author

Welcome to this week's stop in the Adnan Mahmutović Thinner than a Hair Blog Tour here at Thus Spake the Mighty Wha-keem, which is also (as my faithful readers know) the third instalment of Mahmutović month over here. This time, the focus is upon Mahmutović the Author, which is arguably his most substantial role (his academic work notwithstanding), if nothing else because it is thus far the role in which he has been most productive.

Mahmutović has published assorted short fiction, poetry and essays in anthologies and (on-line) magazines. Most recently, he won second prize in Biscuit Publishing's short story competition with his story "First Day of Night". Still, his most substantial contribution to date are three published books: [REFUGE]E, a miscellany of short fiction, poetry and essayistic writings from 2005 (see my full review), Illegitimate, a novella published as an e-book by Cantarabooks in 2009 (see my full review), and finally, this year, Thinner than a Hair, a novel published by Cinnamon Press (see my full review).

[REFUGE]E pretty much lays the foundation for Mahmutović's authorship and oeuvre thus far. It draws upon his experiences as a Bosnian-Swede and, perhaps more importantly, a Bosnian refugee from the war in Bosnia following the breaking apart of the old Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia a decade after the death of Josip Broz Tito, its President for Life since the early 60s and, according to many, its single unifying national force. While much of the former nation, or (perhaps more accurately) many of the new (or older depending on how one views it in an historical perspective) nation states that arose in the aftermath of its passing, went through a period of wars and violence, and while it is fair to say that the Balkan region as a whole was in a state of severe turmoil, there is no denying that Bosnia was one of the areas of the former Yugoslavia where the war turned particularly ugly (consider, for instance, the Srebrenica Massacre or Genocide of July 1995, where more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men and boys were exterminated).

Like so many other refugee and migrant writers, Mahmutović writes from his own experience of displacement, but like the best of them, he does not succumb to simple autobiography, but produces more general insights into these conditions through well-crafted characters, whom he sometimes allows to narrate their own stories. The latter is certainly true of Almasa, the character who (almost) holds [REFUGE]E together, and who is also the narrator of some of the texts in that book; but it is even more true of Fatima Begovic.

Fatima is Mahmutović's creation par excellence thus far in his oeuvre. She is the narrator of both Illegitimate and Thinner than a Hair, two books that were initially intended as one. While the two books are certainly joined at the hip (much like Siamese twins), and as such deserves to be published together in an omnibus at some point in the future, I think both the novella and the novel (and by extension Mahmutović himself) is better off this way. Fate may have conspired against the original tome with alternating chapters between past and present (or at least a more present moment), but this works in the texts' favour, and in Fatima's. Her narrative voice gets to present two narratives, connected by the fact that they are stories from her own life, yet separated both logically and literally by being two different entities.

After having read both of them, I would strongly urge future readers (if possible) to read them in chronological order of publication (i.e. Illegitimate first and then Thinner than a Hair) as this strikes me as the most rewarding sequence to read them in (naturally after having read them in the entirely opposite manner).

Illegitimate opens up at just as 1999 turns to 2000 and follows Fatima's travails as a Bosnian refugee, prostitute and illegal immigrant in Munich, Germany, up until the fall of the Twin Towers in New York on 9/11, 2001. Thinner than a Hair, on the other hand, is narrated from within this period in Munich, 2001 (yet presumably at least ending after it, if my interpretation of certain passages is correct), but deals with Fatima's past – her birth in the summer of 1974, a few snapshots from her growing up in Bosnia (spring 1986 and autumn 1989), some abbreviated notes on her arrival and early years in Germany (winter 1994 to spring 1998), but mainly about the period between autumn 1991 and winter 1993, when she finally fled her war-torn homeland. This period, covered in nine of the novel's thirteen chapters (not counting the prologue and epilogue), is central not only in the novel's structure, but in Fatima's life and in her fractured narrative of identity.

Mahmutović has managed to draw upon his own experiences and give them a voice through a fictional character's voice and life, and it is certainly not wrong to claim that Fatima has a life. She lives and breathes on every page of these two texts, and her textual birth is a literary feat on Mahmutović's part. Fatima's fictional life captures the life experiences of the Bosnian refugees and gives them a textual identity with which to face the reader, without ever becoming stereotypical or fleshless. Her voice annihilates Mahmutović's own, and he in part allows this to happen. He gives his character absolute precedence over any false sense of textual authority on his own part, and it breathes a sense of life into his fiction which might not otherwise have been possible.

In short, Mahmutović is an author both to be read and to keep an eye on. As I have already stated and repeated in my reviews of his work, he is quite likely one of the up and coming authors of his generation.

Next week, 26 July, the Thinner than a Hair Blog Tour will move on to Tania Hershman's blog TaniaWrites. Be sure to check that out. Meanwhile, we will turn to the fourth and last instalment of Mahmutović month over here and have a look at Mahmutović the Scholar (with the focus on his dissertation on authenticity and community in the writing of Salman Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje and Ben Okri). Until then, gentle readers, take care!

No comments:

Post a Comment