December 2007

Thursday Thirteen

1. I really don’t have some bright idea what should I write for this TT. Since it will be the last TT this year it should be something about some important events in 2007. But I’m not sure about that because I usually blogging about them. So it will be one spontaneously written TT about … we’ll see…
2. 13 days ago (Dec 14th) it was my 1st blogging anniversary. I’ve never been fan of diaries; I never wrote one. It was considered as a girlish thing and beside that I wasn’t interested in doing that. I was writing my thoughts from time to time and also kind of short stories I’m very proud of.
3. Then I started to be “active” on the internet and have met lots of great folks with whom I share so many interests. I was thinking about my favourite books and movies and all I could remember was that sense of astonishment after reading/watching it. But then I tried to recall what was all about and I couldn’t. It was frightening. I know what is my favourite book and I could remember the synopsis vaguely which was not nearly satisfying. 4. And that was my main impulse to start writing, and then since I already writing why not make a blog? Without any pretensions to create something big and important just a place where I could put my ramblings. It was quite accidentally and I didn’t think it will be interesting for others to read.

5. But it seems it was interesting 😉 Of course posting in TT meme increased visits and I though it might be good idea to write things about Serbia, our customs, life etc precisely in TT. And when you live in Serbia you simply cannot avoid politics. Sadly it is inseparable part of our everyday life. Every peasant knows when is next meeting of Security Council in UNO because it has (again or should I say still) direct impact on our lives. 6. So I started to write about political situation here and especially about some (unknown) facts about Kosovo and Metohija, especially after I heard what people from abroad “knows” about this issue. I tried to stay objective as much a possible. I know this theme was not very popular among TTers; people simply expect to read here about funny things. They usually don’t wanna read huge text about suffering in the country they aren’t even able to locate on the map. And I respect that completely! 7. Well good thing about TT is that you can write about everything so that people are free to say “boooring” and leave the place. I just remembered that my blog was marked as potentially offensive. I think that was because of my text about film Iraq in Fragments (click the link if you wanna see why) and I would lie if I say I’m not glad because of that.

8. Then of course to not completely scare people who visit my TTs I started to write about history and customs in Serbia; about things and people we are so proud of. And it seems that was quite interesting for many … eventually I become proud on my blog so here is post about it! (that’s a joke of course LOL!). Truth is I was enjoying very much in comments you were leaving.

9. And then I received an e-mail from the Serbian Institute for Public Diplomacy in Brussels in which they said something like “Milan you’re doing awesome thing on your blog so I sent an e-mail with the link of your blog on about 100 addresses (to Serbian diaspora and foreign press agencies)” the subject of the mail was “Someone really special”. I really couldn’t believe that and to be honest I was completely frightened! It seems my blog became something not only mine and I’d have to be careful what I’m writing. No you will not see self censorship here, it’s just few drops of responsibility. I guess.

10. Oh yes, it was fabulous surprise to find comments of directors and producers of the movies I wrote about. It happened twice! Have you ever thought they are actually reading reviews of common spectators? Indeed I never thought but I saw I was horribly wrong in the best possible way!

11. But actually the biggest question about my blog, the question all my friends are asking me: “Why on earth you’re not writing in your mother tongue?” and that’s a very good question indeed. I don’t have a clue why; I guess I initially started after reading my friend’s blogs written in English and I didn’t even noticed I’m writing in foreign language. 12. To be honest I’m glad my blog is in English, otherwise I wouldn’t meet such a great people all around the world. It is sometimes hard to express myself in English indeed and I realize I’m making grammar mistakes but frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!.
That’s the price I’m willing to pay.

13. Thank you all for making this first year very enjoyable. See you next year!

1st birthday


Thursday Thirteen

1. I spoke recently with one of my Spanish professors and she said that one of the strangest thing she saw on the streets of Belgrade is popcorn! Whole world is eating popcorns on the street. 2. When I asked her what’s so strange there, aren’t popcorns common in Spain as well? She said yes people are eating popcorns but not on the streets but in their homes.

3. This evening while I was going back from my class I was observing what people are eating/can buy for eat in the main pedestrian zone in Belgrade and indeed number one are popcorns. On every 100 m there you can buy popcorns!

Chestnuts4. Since it’s winter and quite cold number 2 is roasted chestnuts. Unlike popcorns I LOVE chestnuts. People are roasting it on the street and when you buy it they are so hot but that is the charm: peeling hot, hot chestnuts and then let them melting in your mouth. Beautiful indeed and so winterish. 5. You know couples are often buy two big cartridges of roasted chestnuts and then sit on the bench on the old fort above two big rivers Danube and Sava and feed one another. (6. you can add full moon and stuff like that if you like).

7. Then there is roasted corn. I love that one as well but it leaves traits after eationg so it’s quite handy to care dental floss with yourself. You think that’s crazy (OK I’m crazy but I have dental floss always with me).djevrek
8. Ok there is also boiled corn but now it’s not its season.

9. Then there is ђеврек or đevrek it’s round dough with sesame and … I’m not sure but is beautiful! I love it whan it crisp in my mouth.

10. Of course pizza. Is tehre any place where you can’t buy pizza? But difference with us here is (Italians are horrified with that) wa are putting ketchup on pizza! And there are so many variations. During the cold evenings I prefer one with chili peppers.

Gibanica11. You can’t skip burek. Something we took from Turks and modified it so now there are burkes with meat, cheese, mushrooms, etc. I love it! Or traditionally Serbian Gibanica (Serbian phyllo pastry dish, usually made with Serbian white cheese, less common with other cheeses)

12. And since it’s time of Lent there are fast food adequate for the people who are respecting it. I ate this evening, small breads stuffed with leek for instance. It’s healthy and delicious.

13. So this is the food you can buy on the street and food you will normally eat while walking and chatting with friends or while taking your dog in walk (and share few bites).

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In the Country of Men
Hisham Matar

In the Country of MenIn the Country of Men is basically story about life in Libya after the colonel Muammar El Qaddafi’s revolution. The year is 1979 and the narrator is nine years old Suleiman so we see revolution and its consequences through the eyes of nine years old boy. Boy who was much protected from the truth by his parents. It was interesting how some obvious facts (obvious for us, adults) are presented in some naïve language of a kid. We have impression that we are sailing through the sea surrounded with peaks of icebergs. The difference is that we (adults) are aware what’s beneath the surface unlike the child who is telling us the story.

Then there is one nice picture about customs in the Muslim country and again position of woman in it. Suleiman’s mother has been forced into the marriage when her brother saw her in the café with mixed company. Immediately “husband hunt” begins and the Scheherazade-like story. Therefore she was very unhappy with her marriage but in the same time in the husband’s absence she’s even more miserable and becomes “ill”. Her “illness” is another peak of an iceberg and I must say I liked how Matar has described bond between mother and son making her “illness” something sacredly secret.

Suleiman’s family is relatively rich. His father is businessman often on the trip abroad but also man who is part of democratic wing in new Libya. Wing you don’t want to be part in post Revolutionary, Qaddafi’s Libya; full of secret police, man in dark suits and sunglasses, land where national TV is broadcasting public execution of “traitors of the revolution”; where phone lines are tapped, etc. And inevitably consequence for being wrong winged came. But even then it’s a peak of an iceberg.

Matar has done great job in conveying kid’s confusion toward all the events around him. Politics is absolutely incomprehensible to him; he doesn’t have a clue what his father supports or what he actually is doing in spite the fact that some glimpses have been presented accidentally to him. He is confronted with the mechanism of the regime when secret service is following their car or watching his house or taking away his friend’s father but somehow he manages to not recognize that as something bad. He’s explaining that in the most impossible ways. On the other hand his parents aren’t teaching their son anything, they are worsening situation even more and make him confused ‘till the breaking point when he start to scream (finally!):” You always lie. I am not a child and you always lie.” In the meanwhile I was so irritated with the kid and had to (too) often remind myself that he’s only a child.

But what disappointed me the most are last few chapters when we are actually see that the story tells 24 Suleiman and not nine years old boy. I’ve found myself confused why on earth he made this unnecessary contrast with the rest of the novel who has convinced us that the narrator is a boy? The whole novel was through the eyes of a kid, who is not kid anymore and therefore it completely spoils the earlier approach. Now when I know Suleiman is an adult I’d expect story from a point of view of an adult person.

The story itself is nothing new. It’s more/less the same story from a country under oppressive regime. There are only few specifically Libyan spices in this dish.
Indeed this is sad and sometimes poignant story but is that should be enough?

This is part of my Winter Reading Challenge 2008

Winter Reading Challenge 2008Yes I know I’ve said I’ll avoid reading challenges since I was so unsuccessful in my previous attempt but I decided to try once again (this time with not so many books).

Kathleen is hosting Winter Reading Challenge 2008. It shouldn’t be too hard: simply you should pick as many as you wanted books and read them from Dec 1st till the Feb 28th

Here is my list:
1. Fear and its Servant by Mirjana Novaković (read review here Dec 5th)
2. In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar (read review here Dec 10th)
3. Götz and Meyer by David Albahari
4. Kapo by Aleksandar Tišma
5. Binu and the Great Wall (Canongate Myths) by Su Tong
6. Peeling the Onion by Günter Grass
7. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
8. Goya’s Ghosts by Jean-Claude Carrière and Milos Forman
9. Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan (Feb 3rd; didn’t write review)
10. Beltenebros by Antonio Muñoz Molina (Jan 10th; didn’t write review)

OK that would be it. Knowing myself I‘ll probably add some other title just because.
Wish me luck 🙂

As I thought I had to change the list. I’ve read:
1. The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices by Xinran (read review here (I’m zzz); Feb 4th)
2. My Forbidden Face: Growing Up Under the Taliban by Latifa (read review here (I’m zzz); Feb 16th)
3. Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (Feb 20th; didn’t write review)
4. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (read review here; Feb 28th)

The Best Of Serbia!

The word naj in Serbian is in combination with some adjective use to amplify that adjective (good or bad) but when it stands alone it always means the best! These days (well the whole last year) it was the best association with Serbian tennis players (the best Serbian brand for sure)!

Yesterday Belgrade Arena was full (20000 spectators) and occasion was Humanitarian spectacle “NAJJ Srbije” (the best of Serbia).

N is for Novak Djoković (world #3)
A is for Ana Ivanović (world #4)
J is for Jelena Janković (world #3)
J is for Janko Tipsarević (world #52)

These four were I think for the first time together played in a front of their own people and our hearts were full while we were watching them. Arena was sold out and all money has been divided in four parts, every player has donated her/his part to some charity: mainly for children of Kosovo and Hospitals; UNICEF; etc.

We saw our stars in little different light. Of course the result was irrelevant so I’m not going to mention it but their singing skills were equally good!
Their sense for humor is great and they’ve made that evening unforgettable.

Indeed this was tennis event so we saw our best juniors as well but also famous singers and actors have their part as well. (Maria Sharapova and Robert de Niro should be there as well but I’m not sure about that. They were both cheering Novak at the final of US Open this year and have confirmed their arrival).

Once again thank you!



Thursday Thirteen

1. I’ve noticed that I quite rarely write about Serbian literature (so far I think I have only one post) which is quite strange. Truth is that I usually read foreign contemporary literature and in private correspondence with my foreign friends I’m recommending my favourites Serbian writers; what a paradox.

2. Recently I had “conversation” with one Finnish friend about Serbian folklore, namely about devil/vampire in it and have recommend her “Fear and its Servant”, novel written by Mirjana Novaković (as far as I know book is translated only in French: La peur et Son Valet). That was the novel who missed the most prestigious Serbian literary award, NIN Award by one vote. But (big BUT) I wasn’t talking about the novel but about magical theatre play based on this novel. Play was settled under the open sky, during the night on the Belgrade fort Kalemegdan (where the novel is set as well). I have the novel on my to-be-read pile and after that conversation I took it and lightly start to read. I made first pause after reading 100 pages!
This is probably my novel of the year!

Fear and its Servant (Страх и његов слуга)
by Mirjana Novaković (Мирјана Новаковић)

Fear and its Servant3. Fiction with vampires is usually not my cup of tea (I’m afraid my only positive experience was „Historian“ by Elisabeth Kostova); however I’m very interested in ethnology and folklore and being Serbian I surely can’t skip vampires (I’ll explain the reason later; you’ll be surprised), therefore folklore, myths etc. in nonfiction work is something I like very much indeed.
The novel is set in XVIII century in Belgrade under Austrian administration and the topic is one historical event: Investigation of vampires.

4. XVIII century is full of scientific achievements and historical events and Serbs gave their (quite odd but still) contribution as well: Vampires!

Namely for the first time in the western world Serbian (!) word “vampire” has been documented! In the year of 1725 in the Serbian village Kiseljevo peasant Petar Blagojević (or HERE) died and soon after him few peasants more. All of them in their dying moments were talking that late Petar is coming to them during the night and drank their blood. Then commission along with the priest exhumed Petar, stabbed his heart with hawthorn stake and burned the body. Peter has been proclaimed as “archvampire”, the report has been sent to Belgrade and from there to Vienna and after publication in The Wiennerisches Diarium it was the main theme in Vienna’s public circles.

5. So, theme for this novel is historical fact from 1725, arrival of the commission from Vienna that supposed to investigate article in Wiennerisches Diarium about vampires in Serbia. But that would be just too simple right? Therefore the main role plays Devil himself! (in strange way similar with “Sympathy for the Devil” by Rolling Stones). 6. So I guess by default this novel suppose to be horror and in some way it is: we have vampires, placed in the system of manipulations, money, politics … yes it is actually kind of political horror novel. Therefore there’s no problem to put in this sub-genre at the same place vampires, devil, princes, Maria Magdalene, Christ … Politics is the biggest horror because it is true horror. In politics, nothing is fiction!

7. As I said devil plays the main role and is one (of two, second is Princess Maria Augusta Turn and Taxis) narrators of the story. He is disguised in false count Otto von Hausburg (one of many historical allusions) and is coming with his servant Novak, Serb (amazing character, Christian who is willingly work for devil as a way of self punishment) to check if the rumors about vampires are true. He has his own reasons.

8. In one moment devil says “I don’t have enemies among people. Everyone loves me!” and in some way you can believe in that (remember Rolling Stones from above) because we are meeting men that are much worse than the devil. Here devil is anthropomorphous being, almost common man who doesn’t have any supernatural powers but has flaws common to majority of human beings. And that is the irony: Devil meets people much worse than he is and he’s afraid and wants to avoid them. It seems that devil is afraid of Serbia (and Serbs)!

9. So this is mixture of horror and fantasy with postmodernistic elements. This is the story where the history is turned upside down! Vision of Christianity through the eyes of the devil, from the night in the Gethsemane Garden through the centuries is so intelligent and with amazing humour! We see devil as a common man who drinks, smokes hashish, sleep, is running away from love and is afraid of vampires! And why’s that? Well, think! If dead people are arising Judgment Day is near, meaning farewell to the devil!

10. Images of Belgrade from the early XVIII century are magical! The city has been divided in two parts: “Austrian” (which means: European, Christian, white (Belgrade means Beli-White Grad-City)) part and the second “obscure other” part that is on the other side of the Wall, behind the Prince Eugene Line, where through the night and fog roam vampires, ghosts, road bandits and other Serbian and Turkish natives. I said that the history has been turned upside down but there are many historical facts, especially about the history of my Belgrade (episodes I didn’t know).

11. Through entire novel many pseudo-biblical stories are interweaving and are initiated with the constant devil’s self-reexamination, his desperate need to treat Christ with irony and author with many beautiful marginal allusions is canceling linearity of time. We are sailing from the New Testament to Ludwig Wittgenstein, from Dante to Rolling Stones and through the huge part of Serbian literature.

12. In the same time, Novaković is telling one apocryphal story about one Belgrade that is nothing but apocryphal place for any nowadays Belgradian because there is almost nothing left from those past times. That was de-oriental-ed place, with three circle of strong walls, full of cathedrals build by Austrians, and destroyed by the same Austrians when the Austrian regent sold Belgrade back to Turks. 13. And if there is a place where that town still exists, it must be in that other world where, even today many undead souls of the always obscure, dark Balkans are roaming; about which Mirjana Novaković is writing with cheerful, ironical tenderness, precisely in the way one should write about something that is dear as much as is crazy, about something where even devil himself in one moment is putting cross around his neck!

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A Long Way Gone – memoirs of a boy soldier
Ishmael Beah

A Long Way GoneNew York City, 1998
My high school friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life.
– “Why did you leave Sierra Leone?”
– “Because there is a war.”
– “Did you witness some of the fighting?”
– “Everyone in the country did.”
– “You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?”
– “Yes, all the time.”
– “
I smile a little.
– “You should tell us about it sometime.”
– “Yes, sometime.”


This is how begins this vivid, heartbreaking testimony of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone.

Ishmeal Beah was born 1980 in the village in Sierra Leone and lived life common for boy of his age, was in loved in rap music, have his own “bend” who imitated famous rap performers, he recited monologues of Macbeth and Julius Caesar at the gatherings of elder people in the village (did I say common for boy of his age? I guess I should add “more/less common”), and knowing that there is a war “somewhere”. The only war he was familiar about was from the movies like “Rambo”.

Sadly he will find out very soon what the war is. On one common day war came into his life; when he was 11 Sierra Leone swept into chaotic civil war between Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the official (and corrupted) Action People Congress (APC). Of course there is no good war but while reading this testimony I was so confused with the extreme confusion (sounds stupid). Namely, as if there were numerous fractions that have fought against each other. Everyone who is not in your group is potential enemy (and the best/safest way to find out is to shoot before question is asked). Beah with his friends was running away from the RUF through the country and in every singe village people were so frightened by them and have leaved the village. They were trapped more than once and they had to explain that they are running away from the war so they can’t be soldiers!

Now the question is Why on earth the whole village is so afraid of one group of 7 boys? And indeed, question sounds quite reasonable but then, the main characteristic of the Sierra Leone civil war (as well as the civil war in neighboring Liberia) were precisely groups of boys (child) – soldiers. I was finding myself numerous times speechless toward the brutality they were capable to commit! I was often observing smiling face of Ishmael on the back cover in disbelief that he (and his friends) have took part in those events described in the book. It was really hard to believe.

In the same time it is very positive that we have a chance to read chronicle of the brutal life of child soldier because this is something that is happening in this moment as well and I’m not sure how much we are aware of that. There are more than 300.000 child soldiers around the world (according to UN) and huge majority is from the conflict region in sub-Saharan Africa (where Sierra Leone is) so this book is actually the voice of those 300.000+ children and is trying to break the wall of deafness of the western world.

You could ask yourself how come such an enormous brutality in the mind of one child (I was wondering the same) and this book is describing so perfectly process of brain washing. Of course children are quite easy material for manipulation.

Ishmael tried to avoid all this. As I said he was running away from the war with his friends, he was separated from his brother and later from the friends, he was living alone in the forest, sleeping on the tree but eventually government corps have found him and offered “sanctuary” in one village under their protection.

But as I said, mind of a kid is easy to be washed, especially mind that longing for its happy days from the past which will never be back and in the same time the main culpable have been presented to it. In order to help there is always sufficient amount of drugs, memory of their killed families, films with “Rambo” and his powerful fist of revenge. And of course on the other side are (imagine this!) vengeance seeking groups of children soldier! And that is the never ending circle.

Life in Rehabilitation Centre and the process itself was everything but not easy. He was drug addict, brain washed, full of hatred toward “civilians”, tormented by nightmares and of course sadness. But workers in the centre were constantly repeated mantra: “This isn’t your fault” and that was the hardest thing to adopt. Children in the camp were completely lost, they were taken from the forest, from the war and settled into the place were there is no need to be constantly careful, where there is no killings, shooting, and there is no drugs! We can see how slow but constant progress of the method is but sadly we’re seeing how little is necessary to destroy the whole process when the war reappears.

Ishmael lives in New York and is a member of Human Rights Watch and some other international organizations and considering this is the well known fact (as well as the topic of this book) I wrote liberally this review and therefore you might think there are some spoilers. I think whatever I wrote here will not spoil your impression (meaning, will not decrease shock while you reading quite graphic descriptions from Ishmael’s childhood).

And don’t object his writing style, it would be ridiculous (sometime I was forgetting what I’m holding and was analyzing construction but then I asked myself “What are you doing???”)

You can visit his site here: A Long Way Gone and check my Beats of No Nation review, novel written by Uzodinma Iweala with very similar topic.
This is the page of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

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