I Need a Step-Mother Tongue

by N.A.N.

The last two books I’ve read are Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Aleksandar Hemon’s Love and Obstacles. After I finished Love and Obstacles, I realized that both authors, coincidental to my reading their work, are 1) from the former Yugoslavia (Hemon is from Sarajevo, Obreht is from Belgrade), 2) both works deal with, in whole or in part, the war that resulted in the break-up of Yugoslavia into its component parts, and that both wrote beautifully done books in a language that is not their first.

I’ve felt like a writer since I was in the third grade, when I wrote a story about monsters for a class contest that I was pretty proud of (even though a totally flaccid hack who dealt in cliches and banalities was given the class prize). I wish I had that story so that I could go back to it like a talisman and coax some wordly magic out of it. But anyway, now and many years later, the vocation is still calling, has always been calling, but I can’t understand its mysterious voice. And that’s it. That is just it. Viola! The oh-shit realization that will end a lifetime of frustrated attempts and non-attempts and fits and starts and failures: I’m writing in the wrong language. English, the only language I have, is no good for me. I need to acquire a second language, and then this writing gig will take off. Do I reverse course on Obreht and Hemon (and other Slavs for whom English was not their first language – Nabokov and Conrad), and learn and write in a Slavic language? Maybe I’m naturally inclined towards expression via the Cyrillic alphabet?

Морам да се на посао.