[A] gorgeous new dual memoir ... The writing contains both immediacy and a thrillingly historical long view ... The stories Hemon tells about his parents and their histories are by turns harrowing and hilarious ... There is all the love and frustration here that anyone feels for their aging parents, with the additional heft of sympathy for their pain ... While My Parents unrolls in great skeins of storytelling, its companion book, This Does Not Belong to You, is a series of short, spikier pieces, untitled, none longer than a single paragraph ... This is some of the best writing about what it really feels like to be a child that I can recall reading.
In this moving memoir, Hemon approaches the general through the particular, capturing the refugee experience of displacement through writing about his Bosnian family ... My Parents is not all grim. The chapter on food will not only have you heading to the kitchen, but laughing out loud. Describing his parents uncomfortably eating at a restaurant, Hemon gets on a roll like he’s doing stand-up ... When you finish My Parents, you flip the book over and start This Does Not Belong to You, a separate collection of isolated memories, musings and anecdotes. This is Hemon at his most contemplative, whimsical, and personal ... This Does Not Belong to You is Hemon looking deeply into himself, mining the recesses of his mind, and while he doesn’t always strike gold, it is, like My Parents, a joy to join in the reflection.
...it is only in two new books of nonfiction—My Parents: An Introduction and This Does Not Belong to You—that he really comes to terms with the limits of individual agency, and the grim prospect that there may be no salvation for the exile after all ... the two books meet, like hemispheres, in the middle. Together, they constitute the poles of Hemon’s world: history and memoir, reality and myth, realism and the avant-garde ... As a writer, Hemon is exact, unsentimental, cerebral. That is not to suggest that he is aloof or unfeeling ... There is an ocean of pain underneath his prose, and his brainy stoicism is the raft that prevents him from drowning in it ... This Does Not Belong to You represents a step forward in Hemon’s relationship with the written word. Or maybe it’s a step back. The confidence of his earlier work has now been checked by a pervasive doubt—about literature’s ability to create order and meaning, and to put a broken life back together ... Hemon’s crisis in This Does Not Belong to You also undermines the writer’s greatest conceit: that by describing the world truthfully he can somehow control it ... We know, in our bones, that control is an illusion ... Great literature still provides its comforts.
One of Hemon’s calling cards is formal experimentation. The new project joins two discrete but complementary works of nonfiction. This Does Not Belong to You is essentially a series of outtakes from the family memoir — short prose pieces and prose poems leavened by philosophical musings. They evoke a childhood filled with mischief and casual schoolyard violence, as well as scholastic success and the heartbreak of first love. Occasionally, Hemon will draw harsh lessons from these piecemeal recollections...But mostly he wants to validate memory as an antidote to both exile and mortality — even if memory itself is necessarily faulty. '(W)hat I remember now are the stories of memories that might have been the memories of stories,' he says, a warning, once again, not to follow him too far into the labyrinth.
Hemon’s newest, most delving nonfiction work ... He also incorporates the complicated histories of Bosnia and Yugoslavia, studded with cultural touchstones, in his ardently precise and analytical portraits of his parents, while in This Does Not Belong to You, he deepens the art of the vignette with sensuous and emotional veracity as he shares scorching moments from his Sarajevo childhood ... Here, too, are bracing candor, gruff tenderness, righteous anger, and political astuteness, all conveyed with Hemon’s signature intensity, mordant wit, and creative bite.
This Does Not Belong to You is more of a series of coming-of-age fragments, some rapturously poetic ... It provides the seeds for his sense of identity and for his germination as a writer ... An incisive combination of literature that addresses the function of literature and memories that explore the meaning of memory.
[A] richly reflective two-volume memoir ... Hemon sets the tender and often funny story of his quirky parents against the vivid background of their nurturing (though dour and sexist) peasant culture ... Sometimes lively and sensual, sometimes bleakly ruminative, Hemon’s recollections unite his dazzling prose style with a captivating personal narrative.