The debut novel “Nowhere, From Nowhere” [Nigdje, niotkuda] by Bekim Sejranović won the Meša Selimović award for best prose in 2008 at the recently held Cum grano salis literary meeting in Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina, early September.
The award, established back in 2001, is given to the best novel published in Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro in the previous year. Bekim Sejranović is the ninth recipient of the award.
“Nowhere, From Nowhere” is an autobiographic essay about the loneliness of growing up in different parts of the world. According to some of the media reviews, the book could be both a short history of the 20th century, and a “catalogue of all of its exiles”. Sejranović worked on the book for five years.
“It is difficult to explain what the book is really about, but a sort of a main theme, which interweaves through the novel, is the search for identity; not only for the roots, but for what comes next”, said Sejranović in an interview.
The book follows the life of the main character, from his growing up in Bosnia and moving to Croatia, to his exile in Norway - and the failed attempt to return to his homeland.
“He finds out he does not belong to any of those worlds. He could not adapt in Norway, but at the same time, he cannot go back, because he feels that [his world there] has also disappeared”, explained Sejranović the principal character in his novel.
The young laureate’s life experience has obviously been the inspiration for the character. Sejranović was born in Br?ko, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in 1972. He spent his high school and university years in Rijeka, Croatia. In 1993 he moved to Oslo, where he did a master's degree in South Slavic literature. He has worked as a translator and teacher in Norway. He has edited and translated an anthology of Norwegian short stories titled “Vast, Void Landscape” [Veliki, pusti krajolik]. He has also published a book of short stories, “Fasung”. At present, he divides his life between two homes, one on the Dalmatian island Hvar and one in Oslo.
The candidates for the Meša Selimović award are nominated by official selectors. There is one selector from each of the participating countries. Each selector can propose up to five novels. Sejranović was nominated by the selector from Croatia, Miljenko Jergović. Jergović won the Meša Selimović award in 2007 for his novel “Ruta Tannenbaum“.
In addition to the selectors, also the jury comprised former laureates. Mirko Kova?, who won the award last year, sat on the selection committee together with Filip David, Irfan Horozović (laureate in 2003), Julijana Matanović, and Andrew Wachtel.
Although relatively recent, the award seems to have grown into a springboard for young writers, as well as a “certificate” for maturing authors.
Last year, Kova?’s winning novel “City in the Mirror” [Grad u zrcalu] was welcomed as a book which restores faith in literature. Jergović’s “Ruta Tannenbaum“ is already a bestseller in the region.
When Kova? received his award, he was cited having joked at his own expense, saying “it turned out [he] had more awards than books”. He said he was not sure that was good, but added that also Meša Selimović, whom he had the privilege to know in person, “was at the time referred to as the author who wrote one book [Derviš i smrt; The Dervish and Death].” "One great book is a lot," Kova? was quoted concluding, reminding listeners of Voltaire’s words according to which “one goes to heaven with small luggage”.
In addition to Kova? (2008), Jergović (2007), Horozović (2003) and Spahić (2005), all of whom were involved with this year's literary meeting, other previous laureates include Sanja Domazet (2006), Ivica ?ikić (2004), and Marinko Koš?ec (2002).
At the receipt of his award in 2007, Miljenko Jergović said that the “Meša Selimović award [was] the most prestigious literary award in the former Yugoslav area....because it did not position itself within national boundaries, but between mutually understandable languages”.