A father and his daughter’s brain tumor. I have finally recovered enough from Aleksandar Hemon’s essay “The Aquarium” —about losing his nine-month-old daughter to a brain. The Aquarium, by Aleksandar Hemon. I don’t generally write about a single short story but I just read this piece* in the New Yorker and was.

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Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe. In some ways, the 15 nonfiction pieces in Aleksandar Alekssndar The Book of My Lives resemble the short stories in the author’s collection Love and Obstacles: But where you had to alekeandar the autobiographical elements out of the former volume, the essays here, some of which first appeared in the New Yorker, save you the trouble.

He’ll burrow into a psyche—often his own, but occasionally someone else’s—then clamber out with an armful of longings, neuroses, and fears. He also looks, more broadly, at the effects of social influence on the self. In “The Lives of a Flaneur,” which straddles Sarajevo and Chicago, the author urgently sets about familiarizing himself with his new hometown, where he moved in at the age of 28, living in Ukrainian Village before moving to Edgewater.

The more that Serb militias pummel a qleksandar Sarajevo, the faster Hemon must make Chicago his own. The most intriguing and disturbing stories, though, concern the rabid nationalism of many Serbs during the Yugoslav wars—particularly their hatred of Bosnian Muslims, which resulted in wholesale slaughter.

As described by Hemon, the phenomenon loses none of its chilling nature, but he never quite pinpoints the psychosis fueling it. Serb nationalists’ rage toward Aleksansar resembled that of the predominantly Maronite militias during the Lebanese civil war, and the anti-Sunni ths of the Alawite-dominated Syrian army and “shabbiha” militias today.


The Novel Didn’t Come from Monkeys: Aleksandar Hemon’s “Aquarium” : Apostrophe :

The violence of these groups also stands out when compared to that of their enemies. This is not a coincidence, nor does it derive solely from the dynamics of the immediate political conflict. The key factor is inherited hatred.

Historically, Maronites, Serbs, and Alawites were oppressed minorities.

Even after they’d freed themselves, carefully nurtured resentments were passed on from one generation to the next. Serb nationalists in the s hadn’t lived—let alone suffered—through Ottoman Turkish rule, but they nevertheless considered themselves victims.

In their willful delusion, they conflated contemporary Bosnian Muslims and the Turks of yore. Hemon grazes this crucial issue, but he never plunges into it. Tje those stories in which ethno-religious hatred makes a fleeting appearance. In “The Lives of Others,” Hemon quotes the Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic’s description of his entry into Srebrenica, where his men would commit genocide—”This is the latest victory in a five-hundred-year-long he,on against the Turks”—but fails to break down the thinking behind such a ludicrous statement.

In “The Kauders Case,” hejon mentions that “Belgrade in the nineties was fertile ground for the most virulent fascism,” neglecting to explain hmeon. Even those pieces devoted to the Yugoslav conflict are exasperating. And “The Book of My Life,” about Hemon’s college literature professor, never goes beyond the scholarly exterior to reveal the man’s motivations for joining Karadzic. The volume closes with “The Aquarium,” Hemon’s heart-wrenching account of his baby daughter Isabel’s brain cancer; she died, at just over one year old, in late auqarium, and the book is dedicated to her.

The title of the piece refers to Hemon’s disoriented feeling aquariim Isabel was sick: The Hemon portrayed in “The Aquarium” is a man whose bouts of desperation are interspersed with moments of lucidity and piercing insight.


A recurrent theme is his three-year-old daughter Ella’s “excess of language that she may not have enough experience to match. She creates an imaginary brother, whom she grants the privilege of visiting California, but whom she also afflicts with a tumor that will vanish in two weeks—”California” and “tumor” having recently been added to her lexicon.

You can’t but wonder whether, in the period following Isabel’s death, Ella unwittingly sustained him.

Bereft of a child, he considers life scarcely worth living—except for those moments when he sees the daughter who remains continue to experience the joy of a fertile imagination and infinite streams of new words.

Slowly, he begins to recover. Switch to the mobile version of this page.

Culture Vulture: The Aquarium, by Aleksandar Hemon

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