Hemon: "The Book of My Lives"

I’ve written before of the penetrating, often funny essays of Aleksandar Hemon, the Bosnian writer who, fortunately for us, calls Chicago home. His new collection, The Book of My Lives, is terrific, whether the subject is gravely serious (war, illness) or much more fun (pick-up soccer with a crew of fellow refugees). 

Here’s one opening paragraph I quite liked from the essay “The Lives of Grandmasters,” which has just been published online as well:

I do not know how old I was when I learned to play chess. I could not have been older than eight, because I still have a chessboard on whose side my father inscribed, with a soldering iron, “Saša Hemon 1972.” I loved the board more than chess — it was one of the first things I owned. Its materiality was enchanting to me: the smell of burnt wood that lingered long after my father had branded it; the rattle of the thickly varnished pieces inside, the smacking sound they made when I put them down, the board’s hollow wooden echo. I can even recall the taste — the queen’s tip was pleasantly suckable; the pawns’ round heads, not unlike nipples, were sweet. The board is still at our place in Sarajevo, and, even if I haven’t played a game on it in decades, it is still my most cherished possession, providing incontrovertible evidence that there once lived a boy who used to be me.

St. Louisans: Hemon, who I’ve heard read in town before, returns this Friday. Don’t miss it.