by Vesna Goldsworthy - £8.99 Bitter Lemon Press (2015)
paperback ISBN 13: 9781908524478 | ISBN 10: 1908524472
How would you make sense of your life if you thought it might end tomorrow?
Vesna Goldsworthy breezed through life – a top student at Belgrade University, a presenter of a fashionable radio programme, a poet who performed her work to a crowd of thirty thousand people, a member of the Yugoslav League of Communists, a descendant of one of the fiercest Montenegrin tribes and, perhaps more than anything else, a pampered child of the Serbian middle class. In 1986, at the age of twenty-four, she left Yugoslavia for London to marry an Englishman she had met at the Karl Marx Institute in Bulgaria two years previously. She had no doubt that she would be just as good at being English.
At the BBC World Service, where she worked for seven years, she broadcast news bulletins about her own country’s bloody dissolution and learnt – faced with the ghosts of her childhood amid the rubble -- that she could still tell “her side” simply by how much it hurt. She wanted to keep her mother tongue alive but ‘now knew more words for dying than the Inuit know for snow’. Becoming English was not so simple after all.
Vesna started writing the story of her life when she became aware – faced with the diagnosis of breast cancer when her son was only two – how strange his mother’s life might one day appear to her child. Surrounded by mementos of her son’s British ancestors who served in the furthest reaches of India and Africa, she wondered if the story of the communist world she came from was even stranger, precisely because it had disappeared so abruptly.
Writing a book through which her son could continue hearing his mother’s voice, Vesna learned how to make sense of the fractures and dislocations which marked her life just as surely as the scars which now ran across her body:
‘In its fragmented way, my life makes perfect sense. There is nothing extraordinary about it, but, as I try to write it down, I can feel it burning.’
In prose that is exquisite in its precision, Vesna tells the story of herself, her family and her lost country. Although purportedly an account of forty years in the life of a passionate woman, Chernobyl Strawberries marks the births and deaths of whole worlds. Vesna Goldsworthy’s captivating memoir about identity, love and belonging marks the emergence of an irresistible new literary talent.
"... an elegant, honest and consistently fascinating piece of writing... Goldsworthy captures with real wit and perceptiveness what it was to be, not only a Serb, but a Yugoslav, to grow up under the red star tricolour ... a deeply personal, original and absorbing work ..."
(Price & availability last checked: March 2015)