Author (or Editor): Bazhe

Title: Damages

Fiction? Anthology?  Autobiography/memoir

Publisher:  Writer’s Showcase/

Date: 2002

ISBN:  0-595-23764-9

Series Name:

Physical description: softcover, 402 pgs

Relevance to doaskdotell:  personal issues tracking with political change


Bahze is a writer, poet and artist who immigrated into the United States from the Balkans--Macedonia—in the late 1990s. His autobiographical story here merges personal issues (including coming to terms with sexuality and discovering and caring for family), with art, and finally global international politics. The threads are tossed around and then come together, rather in a whirlwind towards the end, as if they were motives and themes in a Beethoven sonata. (For some reason, Beethoven’s #17, the Tempest, in d minor, kept running through my head as I plowed through the last fifty pages.)

Art, of course, has one advantage, of being ambiguous. The artist can suggest the most contentious and dangerous ideas and remain non-specific and not face the full implications of what he said. Not always, perhaps. In the Soviet Union, Dmitri Shostakocich was bought out, and wrote symphonies to glorify the Communist state.

Okay, I am getting off track. The point is, this is a book about Freedom, and one which recognizes the faults, flaws, responsibilities, and mess that can come in a political and social system where individuals and communities can express themselves competitively. After visiting America, Bazhe quickly learns of the flaws of our competitive society. Yet, what he left behind in the Balkans, the remnants of a Communist society—Yugoslavia-- falling apart like it were a burned out star, does not work at all. There is tribalism, and religion run amok (Bazhe attributes much of what is wrong with organized religion). The Balkans turn into an Armageddon with wars and ethnic cleansing. At the very end, Bazhe makes a startling observation connecting the Balkans to 9-11 and Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.  The Balkans have always been a connection point—in Clive Barker’s talk in Imajica, a Reconciliation boundary—between Christian and Muslim “Dominions.”

The book is laid out in thirty-five fairly short chapters, each with a one-word title. So here, I note an underlying similarity with what I did in my 1997 DADT book., where I also weaved personal narrative with politics and social commentary. I had six big chapters (rather like symphonic movements) that broke down into fifty subchapters, each of which is topical and more or less like a Bazhe chapter.

Further, though a work of non-fiction, the true story has a complexity and forward-moving logic that one normally expects to find in a well-plotted historical novel.

Bazhe’s intensely personal story provides, of course, the energy to keep the story moving. The most intense passages are graphically descriptive accounts of his caring for his adoptive mother, after she had a colostomy for terminal rectal cancer, in the most intimate way imaginable, dealing with bodily functions.  At one point, he comments about the belief of some that an adoptive son is not as “valid” as a biological one, but he proves otherwise by the sacrifices he makes—at one point nearly jeopardizing his emigration and US citizenship application—to care for his adoptive mother. This stings me personally, as I did not rise to a possibly comparable challenge to make personal sacrifices and care for my own mother in 1999 after coronary bypass surgery. I my family’s case, the care was hired; but in our developing eldercare crisis one cannot always count on finding that. At tone point, Bazhe finally hires a nurse for his mother before going to America, although not without risk.

But there is much more.  When his father, a Communist official, dies and his mother takes ill, he does return to Macedonia to care for her; but then seeks out his biological mother and locates her. Much of the subsequent first person narrative is told to his biological mother. He would discover his gay sexuality, serve in the Army (where there would be encounters), then go to Turkey and actually experiment with drag (the invocations of “depilation” are a bit perfunctory), before returning to the Balkans as they turned into a waste land.

The issue of “who are the real parents” reminds me of the WB Smallville show, where Clark Kent struggles with this question.

Of course, this all sounds like movie material (and as I say this, I have no idea whether there have been discussions, although I met the author at a book signing in Minneapolis in August, 2003). The concept rather reminds me of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient—again a retrospective comingling of love and history and tragedy that became a powerful Miramax film in 1996. The same opportunity obviously exists here.  




Related: The Tragedy of Miss Geneva Flowers


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