Monday, June 04, 2007

"With Their Backs To The World" by Asne Seierstad

Asne Seierstad, the author of "The Bookseller of Kabul" (I haven't read it yet--I'd welcome any input from someone who has), has written a deeply felt and perceptive portrait of contemporary Serbian society over a period of years; the edition I read was updated after another visit in 2004. Each of the fourteen chapters is devoted to one person (and, sometimes, their families and loved ones) whom the author interviewed and often befriended over several visits to Serbia.

The Serbs Seierstad became familiar with are a varied lot--tired, aging peasants pining for nationalism; a pro-democracy mayor who finds his political career on ice; a young man working for the Socialist Party and parroting pro-Milosevic dogma without enthusiasm or any apparant self-reflection.

One theme that runs through this book is neatly encapsulated in the title--contemporary Serbs, whether they realize it or not, are cut off from the rest of Europe and the world. There is a disconnect which seems odd in a developed country within Europe. Some of the interviewees seem only dimly aware of this distance, and their attempts to articulate their "Serbness" to the Norwegian author are touching in their clumsiness. Most of them, however, are all too aware of the psychological and cultural distance between themselves and the outside.

People constantly speak of being 'stuck,' or unable to accomplish their goals. Frequently we see the subjects trapped in a grinding stasis, unable to find work--meaningful or not--or to engage themselves in life at all.

It's a very good read. Someday I might revisit this book and write more on it.

1 comment:

Shaina said...

great minds do think alike!

And I agree with the connection b/t the title and the theme of being isolated/insolar.