Miljenko Jergovic: Sarajevo Marlboro & Ivo Andric: Omer Pasha Latas

She knew there would be pain in these books. But don’t people in the warmest climes imbibe hot drinks to temper the body’s response to heat? By that logic, here she is; steeped in the rich wordscape and sorrowful history of the Balkans.

The first days of November find this reader still silenced by life. A point in which literature remains among the few things left that can coax words out of her.

Sarajevo Marlboro and Omer Pasha Latas fell into her possession around the same time. That both books come from two of her favorite publishers, that the earth tones of their elegant covers match her autumnal soul, that both authors are exemplary, that their stories juxtapose on the same geographical region, were reasons enough to read them together.

Jergović’s extraordinary vignettes is a dip into a sea of humanity and tragedy in the midst of the Yugoslav wars. Andrić, born a century before these wars, whose words seem to flow as naturally as a limpid stream in the Bosnian countryside, write of a different time under the Ottoman rule, but of eerily similar sufferings.

Sarajevo Marlboro, traces of life retrieved from the rubble, fragments that suggest that the real casualties of war are the living; Omer Pasha Latas, unfinished at the time of Andrić’s death. But none of these books leave this reader dissatisfied. It is strangely easy to be drawn into the hypnotic quality of the details.

Both books intimate our need for context and our need for stories if only to make sense of life and divine its purpose; they whisper about the lies of those in power and of fabricated histories; but both beautifully manifest the ephemerality of life.

Andrić’s last word: “Music”. Jergović’s last paragraph: “You can never list or recall the private libraries that have burned down in Sarajevo… But the fate of the Sarajevo University Library, its famous city hall, whose books took a whole night and day to go up in flames, will be remembered as the fire to end all fires, a last mythical celebration of ash and dust. It happened, after a whistle and an explosion… Gently stroke your books, dear stranger, and remember they are dust.”

Dust: Like everything else we deem precious in this world. So while she can, this reader will stroke her books. They don’t always hold the answers, but they hold her, and hold the dusty, broken pieces of herself together.

12 thoughts on “Miljenko Jergovic: Sarajevo Marlboro & Ivo Andric: Omer Pasha Latas”

  1. I’ll have to get Jergovic’s book for sure. I have Andric’s although I haven’t seen it for years, my friend must have it. Lol. So I did have an NYRB book!!! My one and only! Have you read “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks? A book set in the region too. X

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! I won’t be surprised if you turn out to have more NYRBs than you currently believe. 😂 I have not read People of the Book yet, but loved the Cellist of Sarajevo! I’ll try to look for a copy of the former! I hope you are feeling better today!

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      1. My reading has slowed up these days because of busy/sick child/COVID but I am halfway through Colour by Victoria Finlay and I think you would love it! The author explores the world searching for the history of colour in paints. You’re from an artistic type family, I think you would find real joy in this book!!!

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      2. lol which goes to prove that my brain is fried these days as I had told you earlier and now told you about it again! hahaha. I am nearly done with it and have just found it so fascinating! You will surely get value out of it since your dad paints!

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  2. Beautiful reviews, Mira! Loved Sarajevo Marlboro! It made me pick up another book by Miljenko Jergovic, Kin. I haven’t read Ivo Andrić yet. Hoping to read The Bridge on the Drina soon. Loved that last line from Jergovic’s book that you’ve quoted. So beautiful! Thanks for sharing your thoughts 😊

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  3. I just completed Sarajevo Marlboro last night. A beautiful book indeed. Those last lines about books got to me, so beautifully written. Thanks for this recommendation, I would never have come across it if it wasn’t for you! X


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