Speak, Memory

Aleksandar Hemon's great subject is his own extraordinary life

Peter Hapak for TIME

Alexander Hemon

The true story of Aleksandar Hemon begins in a country that no longer exists.

It's an ancient story: a young man examines his surroundings (in this case, late-1980s Yugoslavia), discovers influences (Conan the Barbarian, Sonic Youth, John le Carré, the Old Testament, Tolstoy), finds his voice (by writing stories, poems and essays about his hometown of Sarajevo) and leaves home.

It's also a horror story of political turmoil, warfare and exile and, later, the loss of an infant daughter. As recounted in Hemon's new memoir, The Book of My Lives, it's at once unimaginable and unforgettable. And it ends--if the life...

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