Lessons of Exile

10 9 2017

Lessons of Exile

Conversation between Velibor Čolić and Melania Mazzucco on the destiny of the exile

Velibor Čolić is from Bosnia and he was working as a journalist and writer when war broke out in Yugoslavia and he was forced to enlist in the army. He later found himself in France as a political refugee, where he restarted his life as a writer. He presented his most recent book Manuel d'exil, comment réussir son exil en trente-cinq leçons at Festivaletteratura together with Melania Mazzucco, whose novel Io sono con te. Storia di Brigitte tells the story of an exile.

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The refugee, says Melania Mazzucco, doesn't have anything except their own story to tell, and every story is both personal and universal. For Čolić, the theme of exile is fundamental: "I will always write about exile and war because literature can't be better than the real world". Exile is more like a state of mind: a person in exile is a person who is lost between borders which don't actually exist.

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Čolić talks about his own history with humour and irony, reflecting on the tragic experience of exile and, in particular, on a complicated relationship with the new language. The book begins with the words: "I am twenty-eight and I get to Rennes with a luggage of only three Franch words: Jean Paul and Sartre." When the Académie Française gave him the prize for French language and literature, he remembered the French for adults course where, one week, the refugees all had to learn the same phrase: ("where is the post office?"). The question arises spontaneously: how did he survive? "Thanks to literature," which became his true companion in exile. A Bosnian refugee who was hungry and cold consoled with the thought that many great writers of the past had found themselves in similar situations. 25 years ago, he was a refugee with ambition and dreamed of the literature that was eventually his way out.