I am very honoured to be a stop on Adnan Mahmutović's Virtual Book Tour for his astonishing novella, Thinner Than A Hair , winner of the Cinnamon Press Novella Award. Adnan is a Bosnian Swede, a "homely exile" (according to his website), who teaches immigrant literature at Stockholm University in daytime, and works with people with mental disorders at night. His blog is Under the Midnight Sun. This is a book that is 153 pages long but which is far from a quick and easy read, in the best possible way. It is a love story, a war story, a coming-of-age story - all of these and none of these. It shakes you, it shows you things you may never have seen, it is deeply human and utterly unsentimental. The book's "heroine" is Fatima, in many ways a typical teenager who is not allowed to be when war breaks out. Fatima's voice is very strong, she is ironic, self-deprecating:
"When I was fifteen I hung a wooden plaque over the front door with an inscription: A Bosnian room. An exemplary living space of the exemplary population as it was preserved in the rural heart of the land. Don't touch! For a guided tour, ask the sulky attendant."
Adnan's prose is both poetic and grittily real. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is first and foremost a gripping story, with the added benefits of an insight into a time and a culture I had very little knowledge of. I decided to ask Adnan not directly about the book, which you can read about on other virtual book tour stops, but ask him my set of "Writing & Place" questions, and then do a short "word association" giving him some words that came up for me while I was reading and asking him for his instant responses. Here are his answers:
Tania: Where are you?
Adnan: Stockholm, Sweden.
T: How long have you been there and how did you get there?
A: Twelve years. I moved to Stockholm in 1998, after five years spent in different refugee camps around Sweden. I left Bosnia in 1993, then spent time in Ystad, Uddevalla and a couple of years in the small town Mullsjö (which means muddy lake). My best friend ended up in Stockholm. I visited him many times and felt I wanted to live there. He fitted me with a bed in 1998, so I left my parents and started on my own.
T: What do you write?
A: So far I’ve mostly written short stories and novels about Bosnian refugees in the their new environments. Not necessarily Sweden, but almost always it’s about people moving. When I say moving I mean moving even when they have settled and integrated into their social spaces. Almasa, the character from [Refuge]e is mostly tied to certain places, but we get a sense she’s on the move. There’s instability in her dwelling. The title of that first collection of stories is supposed to give you that sense. The square brackets around ‘refuge’ give you an image of shelter, a closed space. The extra ‘e’ that makes the word ‘refugee’ is always outside that shelter, that home. Closed but on the move. T: How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write? A: I’m not entirely sure. Probably in subconscious ways. I hardly ever use a real place in my stories unless I’m far away from it. Another interviewer asked me why I call Stockholm ‘my city’ but never use it in my stories. I think I’m too close to it to start reimagining it.
Thinner Than a Hair Word association HOME Ho?me IDENTITY Train WAR Forgetting and rememory (Tony Morrison’s word) FOOD Butter, hardboiled eggs, salt, hard and dark bread, more salt, plum jam, rosehip jam, strawberry jam, orange juice spiced with lots of ginger. (Note. I was answering these questions just before breakfast) LOVE Sharing. Sharing of one’s vulnerability. Thank you so much, Adnan. I hope this has whetted your appetite. Buy the book from Cinnamon Press and receive a free copy of Adnan's short story collection, [Refuge]e.