We held rehearsals in the “Home of the Army.”
For this statement to make sense you have to understand the nature of the Yugoslavian brand of Communism. Take architects, for example, Say a public building is to be made. In Communism it’s not the best architect who gets to make the building; it’s the guy (almost always a man) with seniority in the Party who happens to be an architect that gets to make the building. And to get seniority you have to kiss a lot of ass, sit on committees for stuff you know nothing about, endure years of boring speeches, write and deliver years of borking speeches, and get drunk nightly with the bigwigs to show that you’re involved in both the community and its social life. By then you’re 90 percent bureaucrat and 2 percent architect. This is the reason why the public buildings in the Balkans all look like filing cabinets and why, in turn, they are almost always called “homes” (Home of Health, Home of the Youth, Home of the Workers, Home of the Army): to evoke that warm feeling inside to compensate for their actual soullessness. It’s shit in your mouth, but officially it’s called ice cream.
The Bosnian-American writer’s latest New Yorker essay, about Sarajevo and Chicago, is terrific. (Subscription required, and worth it.) After Hemon’s brave, probing, and unforgettably sad family essay this June (“The Aquarium”), I’m beginning to think he’s one of the sharpest essayists we’ve got here in the States. And his fiction stands on its own as well.