‘Snowflake’ by Semezdin Mehmedinović, translated by Celia Hawkesworth

‘Snowflake’ is the third and final part of a book which describes itself as a novel, but consists of three distinct stories about the author’s and his family’s life in the USA after they have left Bosnia. Each story is one of exile, a state of being in which memory helps to preserve identity and gives solace to their painful experiences. When Mehmedinović’s wife, Sanja, suffers a stroke she loses both her short term memory and long periods of her past. He nurses her and reminds her daily of where they are, how long they have lived there, and all that has happened between now and their previous life in Sarajevo. The storytelling becomes an aid to her recovery, and is in itself an act of love:

“She’s well aware that she doesn’t remember, and asks questions that are crucial to her, she turns to me out of her forgetfulness with full emotional participation. This is one question that she repeats every day:

“How’s your mother?”

“She died in December, four months ago,” I say.

She starts to cry. “I didn’t know … I’m sorry.”

She repeats the question “How’s your mother?” every day. And every day she

receives the news with the same intensity, always hearing it for the first time. My Heartisn’t a sentimental book, and even the story ‘Snowflake’ seems appropriately cold at times. But there is no bitterness, only genuine compassion. On the final page Mehmedinović describes himself and his wife walking along a street in Alexandria, Virginia, when they are passed by a Google car photographing the area for Street View. You expect at least a trace of them to be preserved, but I’ve walked up and down that street online several times and I can’t see them. It feels like their experience of life as exiles is always in danger of disappearing into nothing.

Part Three of My Heart: a novel, Catapult, 2021

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