Reading All I remember is stepping into the now quite well known and established Khemiriland and I feel very good there, writes Eva-Lotta Hulten on Jonas Hassen Khemiris new novel.
A young man, Samuel, is dead. He has driven too fast and crashed into a tree. Maybe it was suicide, perhaps just an accident. Samuel was a person who constantly tried to replenish their bank of experience, but he was also unhappy. The girlfriend had broken up, friends betrayed and on the day he died, his grandmother’s house destroyed in a fire that Samuel in a way, was responsible for. He had let the house be turned into an accommodation for people who needed to hide but the project had grown over his head.
In all I do not remember allows Jonas Hassen Khemiri a number of people to reproduce their recollections of Samuel and of everything that happened during the time before his death. Someone, “author”, initially anonymous, interviewing Samuel’s friends, relatives and other acquaintances who knew Samuel, more or less well. The two voices that get the most space belongs Laide and Vandad. Vandad muscle bundle that works as a debt collector, but try to create an ordinary life and see the friendship with Samuel as a way to get there. Laide is the intellectual activist who wants to do good, but perhaps more for his reputation ratings sake than of true charity.
It is Laides idea to transform Samuel’s grandmother’s empty house to a “protected accommodation “for immigrant women who need to hide themselves, but when the project starts to go out of control and requires action and responsibility, she already tired and abandoned it. Samuel is not the one who controls things up. Vandad may take over and he shouldered the role of director in his own way. Possibly the threat and blackmail involved.
Vandad and Laide are competitors of Samuel. Both are jealous and portrays the other as unreliable and poor Samuel. And both are right. Vandad goes forward like a juggernaut in their zeal to protect Samuel. He wants well but it’s probably not just Laide seeing a walking disaster. Laide, in turn, is neurotic and self-centered, and her strict requirements and expectations makes Samuel insecure and unhappy. But this is a book in which layers are added to inventory. Everything is open to interpretation and reinterpretation, not only everyone’s photos of Samuel but also Vandads and Laides images of themselves and each other. And all’s well filtered and interpreted by the author, the person who reproduces the others’ recollections, which are not self-aware Samuel and that is some kind of alter ego Jonas Hassen Khemiri; a Swedish author of Tunisian descent, who are well aware that it is not possible to tell someone else’s story, but to project their own outside. Perhaps he writes as much his own story of Samuel. He has lost someone close to him and looking through Samuels related ways to get over her grief. In this way, this is also a novel about writing a novel.
Samuel, Laide and author, all utilizing the Samuel differently. And it is as if the more people are heard, the more indistinct becomes Samuel. He becomes the second projecting forward. Tenderness thirsty, dissolute, stingy, generous, uncertain, confident, easygoing, depressive. They see Samuel, or they see themselves? Lying knowingly or remember the wrong?
Khemiri requires its readers that we question all the voices that claim to tell you something that is true. Small hints and clues given all the time and they point not necessarily in the same direction. Laide might as well be Samuel’s life of love, as an escape from feelings of Vandad or perhaps an exploration play with notions of true love.
There is also a book about responsibility and guilt. No one wants to really take responsibility, no one is willing to take the blame. Is Samuel’s death but everything is someone else’s fault.
Very recognizable from Jonas Hassen Khemiris earlier works: the overall theme of young people looking for their identity, the many voices, difficulties in communication and language barriers, class and loyalty. But also it linguistically playful, love of home-made proverbs and sayings (more persons engaged in it, suggesting that it might be “writer” rather than the book’s characters who like them), and the sly humor. I laugh very much when I read. As when Samuel describes how he handles his senile grandmother: “When she did not recognize me, I usually put my grandfather’s old fur cap. Then she becomes manageable. But you have to keep some distance sometimes she wants to lean in for a kiss. “
Reading All I remember is stepping into the now quite well known and established Khemiriland and I feel very good there. This is a book that needs to be read with attention, and with his playful ambiguity which gives plenty back.
Also read: SR’s Novel Prize for Khemiri
Hassen Khemiri writes of joy
All I remember requires Jonas Hassen Khemiri of their readers, that we are all the voices that claim to tell you something that is true. It is a book that needs to be read with attention, and with his playful ambiguity which gives plenty back, believe the Eva-Lotta Hulten .
Eva-Lotta Hulten is a cultural writer and literary critic at the GP of Culture. Reviewed the latest Philip Roth’s novel Nemesis.