In My Parents, Aleksandar Hemon tells the story of his parents’ immigration to Canada―of the lives that were upended by the war in Bosnia and siege of Sarajevo and the new lives his parents were forced to build. This Does Not Belong to You, meanwhile, is a personal companion to My Parents—a series of distilled memories and observations.
Of the two halves, My Parents is the more conventionally straightforward ... Like Hemon’s fiction, the real-life stories in My Parents are so exquisitely constructed that their scaffolding is invisible. You get the sense that he is trying to understand his parents in a way that his younger self did not ... My Parents is warm, wry and loving — but because this is Hemon, he shows his affection not through sentimental declarations but by paying close attention to specifics ... This Does Not Belong to You is rawer and stranger, focused more on Hemon than his parents, though the two halves of the book work in tandem ... In My Parents, Hemon depicts himself as a gentle boy ... In This Does Not Belong to You he is a junior sadist ... There’s a fatalism that suffuses This Does Not Belong to You, an overwhelming sense of mortality and the suspicion that storytelling might never be enough. This despair is leavened by what Hemon so beautifully and concretely conveys in My Parents, with Hemon as a middle-aged son who is carefully and movingly trying to make sense of it all.
[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.