Pejović talks new novel, meaning of memory to Evanston residents


Jason Beeferman/The Daily Northwestern

Pejović reads from his new novel, “American Sfumato.” “American Sfumato” is written in nine independent stories, all from the protagonist’s memory.

Jason Beeferman, Reporter

Evanston author Vojislav Pejović spoke about his new novel, “American Sfumato,” — a collection of nine independent stories from a single character’s memory — at Bookends and Beginnings on Thursday.

Pejović said “American Sfumato” focuses on the “interplay between memory and history” through a “foggy” lens.

“Our key anchor to life is our memory and we corrupt it as we form it,” Pejović said. “I started to think, ‘Okay, how do I capture this in a book?’ And then I thought, maybe if I did this kind of cracked-mirror thing, where you have all these stories that give you this fogginess.”

American Sfumato was originally published in Serbo-Croatian, Pejović’s native language, in Montenegro and Serbiain 2015, and was translated into Slovenian in 2016. The English version was released this fall.

Sfumato, Pejović said, is a Renaissance technique that is similar to the lens through which the novel’s protagonist, Miloš, narrates his recollections.

“I have to apologize to everyone for using the word sfumato in the title,” Pejović said. “For those of you who do not know, it’s one of the four classical techniques of Renaissance painting, where you put everything to appear as if observed through fog.”

The event began with Pejović reading excerpts from two of the nine stories in the novel. Standing up, Pejović put on different voices for each of the characters.

Peer authors Eula Biss and Joshua Corey also co-led a discussion and Q&A between Pejović and the audience.

Pejović, who speaks five languages, reflected on his process of rewriting the same story in English.

“I realized that it actually is very hard to translate oneself and I thought, why don’t I try the other way around?” Pejović said. “Why don’t I try to write in both languages without actually trying to translate anything. It’s almost like switching registers. You’re now playing something in C major and then you transport everything into F minor and the melody is in but you hear it differently.”

Nina Barrett, the owner of the five-year-old independent bookstore, said Bookends and Beginnings is intended to serve as a place for intimate events like these, where authors can have a literary conversation with Evanston residents.

“People feel like they’re in a living room (here), they don’t feel like they’re in an auditorium being talked at,” Barrett said. “One of the things that we bring to the table that the great, awful internet-monster of books doesn’t is an event with real people being in a conversation with the community.”

One of the most recognizable features of “American Sfumato” is Pejović’s ability to incorporate humor into a heavy subject matter, like the impacts of war on memory.

Riva Lehrer, an award-winning artist and writer, came to Bookends to hear Pejović’s writing. She was particularly impressed with the comedic elements of his writing.

“The language was really evocative and continuously weaving between the startling and the very humorous,” Lehrer said. “It had a real immediacy. The sort of exuberance of his personality is just all the way through the writing. I’m buying a copy and taking it home.”

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