Father dearest recently made as non-PC comment as it gets; being a pro politician who more so had intermarried way before it was the thing to do, he actually said-while bursting into laughter: (insert the F-word) it turns out Montenegrin literature is written mainly by Jews, Greeks and Turks! He was referring to ethnic background of some of our most acclaimed contemporary writers, myself being included too… Now, some people can get away with anything – and my father, who was a dissident during wars in former Yugoslavia, had quit a lucrative career in federal ministry of foreign because he opposed back then ruling politics of ethnic and religious intolerance, he who had emigrated, had actively participated in resistance to Milosevic’s disastrous politics and who significantly contributed to the dictator’s overthrow – he can crack a joke like that and get away with it. The thing is that he is right too – at least a half of our most prominent contemporary writers belong to ethnic minorities whereas the rest in their biographies state either growing up abroad or spending prolonged periods of time out of the old country. In full honesty, no wonder it is so – very often, to become a writer, one needs to be an outsider – at least in some way and at least for certain period of time. See, if you grew up in certain surroundings, if you spent your formative years in the same neighborhood, if you never changed schools, friends and even countries and languages – you can be tricked to perceive it all as ‘normal’, regular, just the way it should be. And it is so – communities and societies have their own little worlds with their own customs, traditions, verbal etiquette, dress codes and what not, which groups of people develop when sharing the same geo-economic space over prolonged period of time. We can thank the painful process of acculturation for some of the best classical and contemporary novels – and in particular the novels by American Jewish writers of the first generation, such as Philip Roth and Saul Bellow, who filled their narrative with stories of assimilation. (Luckily the “trend” is over by now and the The New Yiddishist happily integrate various cultural components into their own selves as well as into their writing.)
After a personal exodus from what once was Yugoslavia, after the country had fallen apart and we remained without nationality and mother-tongue, i got lucky to end up in proverbially tolerant Montenegro where i can explore the bits and pieces of my own background and write of the complex puzzle those add up to, without ever getting slurred.
My first book, The Archetype of Miracles, is collection of essays written from 1996 to 2005, which reflect the adaptation to my reacquired homeland. I was raised as a Montenegrin, having never really lived in the old country; when my family had moved back to where my paternal ancestors lived for centuries – to my amazement, as much as i felt i belong there, i discovered i was… well, an outsider.
My identifying with Montenegrin people came from the stories of heroic battles i was told in the childhood, from national dishes my non-Montenegrin mother learned to make majestically and from the long summers spent in the magical Black Mountains… There is that joke of the guy who, having kept the free will after death, got to choose himself between the Heaven and Hell. As the story goes, Heaven turned out to be meekish somehow, very nice, but quite boring whereas the two week independent travel to Hell felt as an exciting adventure; upon having chosen the Hell for his permanent residence, all the excitement was gone and the poor chap was placed in a notorious boiling cauldron. On his kvetching that it wasn’t what was promised and expected, the host with horns and tail laughingly replied: Oh, i see, you confused tourism with emigration!
My own experience was more or less like that too and being cooked in the cauldron of adaptation for a decade or so resulted in five books so far.
When you happen to be of some world, yet for one reason or another out of it – willingly or not you become an observer and eventually, given that you don’t know a single soul close enough so to share your impressions, you start writing.
“These men are in prison: that is the Outsider’s verdict. They are quite contented in prison—caged animals who have never known freedom; but it is prison all the same. And the Outsider? He is in prison too: nearly every Outsider in this book has told us so in a different language; but he knows it. His desire is to escape. But a prison-break is not an easy matter; you must know all about your prison, otherwise you might spend years in tunnelling, like the Abbe in The Count of Monte Cristo, and only find yourself in the next cell.” Colin Wilson, The Outsider
In Osho Zen, the Suit of Rainbows corresponds to traditional Tarot’s Suit of Coins/ Pentacles; the Fives in Tarot denote difficulties and struggles and Five of Pentacles/Coins usually denotes (ephemeral, but still) feeling of isolation and insecurity.