Picasso’s Masterpiece

1 May

My short story “Vanya” is now published in May’s edition of Guernica. Many thanks to fiction editor Meakin Armstrong for taking this little story in an unintended, timely fashion. The day I found out the story was going to be published was the 20th anniversary of the Yugoslavian civil war. “Vanya” ‘s backdrop is the Serbian advance and slaughter of Muslims and Christians in the region. In writing it, I never intended to pass judgement or criticise the war; it’s merely the short story of two people on the run from the genocide taking place in their country. During the height of the war (1992-94) I did a stint on the East Europe desk of Voice of America–English broadcasts at the US Information Agency in Washington, DC. I was a green recent college graduate with a degree in film who had just failed to get into the business in Hollywood, and had come home defeated and depressed with the realities of the industry. I took a writing test and got into VOA, and naturally they stuck me on the E. Europe desk. I worked alongside a horrible editor named Kes–horrible in his level of stress, really. He was actually a good writer, and I learned much from him.  But he yelled incessantly at us writers, and banged his desk with both fists, and reigned supreme over the Eastern European section. It was, in a way, a truly awesome experience…trial by fire, I think is how the cliche goes. But I learned a lot about writing and brevity and accuracy. Back then we actually had to confirm our stories from two separate sources (AP, Reuters, AFP, Itar-Tass, FBIS–which was CIA’s “news service,” and VOA’s own stringers). I covered a lot of the Yugo civil war from original reports in the field by local stringers/journalists and, to this day, I remember one of the most memorable lines from an old Croatian man whose family had been slain by Serbian soldiers: “the 20th Century began in Yugoslavia and is ending in Yugoslavia.” I remember it struck me as heavy and cyclical, and I realized the power and strife of war–in particular religious war–is humanity’s cross. The demons will never be exorcised. We are glib, and so we are doomed to repeat history. That Croatian peasant’s observation was so powerful and indicative of our folly, that I wanted to somehow honor it. It closes Vanya….almost.

Anyway, I hope you like the story. It’s quite short by Guernica’s standards, but it found its home there. I am beyond honoured to share space with two of my literary heroes: Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago and essayist, and all around intellectual extraordinaire Christopher Hitchens. We lost both writers recently, but their words live on.

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2 Responses to “Picasso’s Masterpiece”

  1. Ismail Kamel 13/05/2012 at 9:53 PM #

    I am pleased you feel honoured… It’s a pleasant sensation, when it happens.

  2. Lx 14/05/2012 at 7:43 AM #

    Mike, I don’t really…I’m just saying it to be polite.

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