Born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ennis Cehic is a writer living and working between Melbourne and Sarajevo. His writing focuses on ideas of displacement, creativity, identity and existentialism.
Ennis is the 2018-19 recipient of Australia’sNext Chapter Award, a highly-praised literary program created by Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre & the Aesop Foundation.
Earlier this year, Ennis published New Metonyms, a literary photography book that surveys Bosnia & Herzegovina’s contemporary landmarks, monuments, emblems and cultural signifiers through photography, poetry, short stories and essays.
“I guess the most relevant detail to reveal is that I’m a writer. However, it’s obvious that with making this statement, I only invite further questions. As in, what kind of writer? Do I write fiction? Non-fiction? Memoir?,” Mr. Cehic begins his interview with Sarajevo Times.
“Generally speaking, for me, writing has always entailed a persistent curiousity for understanding humanness. What does it mean to be human in our current times? Why am I? Why are things the way they are? I attempt to answer these questions in different ways: sometimes through essays that explore my displacement from my Bosnian culture,” Mr. Cehic continues.
He adds that through short stories where he dwells on the absurd and surreal, he likes deviating, expanding everyday reality into fiction. He also writes essays about the impact advertising has on culture. This subject, in particular, is deeply interesting to him because he has worked in the advertising industry as a creative for the past thirteen years.
Sarajevo Times: I guess many would know to explain what reminds them of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but numerous people wouldn’t stop and think about metonyms. How, when and why did you decide to write the book “New Metonyms: Bosnia and Herzegovina”?
“For writers with migrant backgrounds (like myself who was exiled from Bosnia in 1992), the homeland is an elusive and mysterious force that always seems to summon us. Because we’ve been displaced from it, its history and its future always tend to find a way to pull us in, to try and understand it. From this ambiguous relationship, we try and devise literature,” Mr. Cehic continues.
For Mr. Cehic, Bosnia holds a special place in his literary output because he thinks that the very idea of being Bosnian now is so difficult to answer, not only if you’re diasporic, but even if you live there.
For his first major project about Bosnia, he wanted to explore every medium that felt right. The idea of pairing and arranging text with imagery, including essays, poems and short stories is a great way to both explore and discover a place. It also gave him the opportunity to work with a very close friend of his, the photographer of New Metonyms, Shantanu Starick.
“But the basic idea of the book came about when I realised that for many western people, Bosnia still conjured up images of war. I wanted to find an interesting way to experiment with this perception, and the idea of metonyms seemed so interesting to me because we, as people always substitute things and places into single images in our heads i.e. metaphors and metonyms. It’s then I asked myself, if the White House is the USA, what the hell is Bosnia?,” he adds.
Sarajevo Times: Metonymy is a very interesting subject to write about. From your perspective, what is the answer to “What is Bosnia and Herzegovina?” as your book asks.
Answering this question, Mr. Cehic says that the purpose of his book was to arrive at an answer to this question, but, as he tried to articulate in the introductory essay of the book, it’s not easy to summarise Bosnia into a single, representative image.
“If you google Bosnia, the Stari Most of Mostar is the one that is most prevalent, so that could be it. But to me, our long history, our nature, our religious diversity, our food, our culture and traditions, architecture all play an equal role in defining the country. And when you have a place like this, where all these beautiful and equally tragic things collide, it creates something marvellous, something entirely unique. This is why to me, all these things, together, make Bosnia the perfect microcosm of the Balkans,” he concludes.
Answering on the question of how do people in Australia react when he tells them he is Bosnian, Mr. Cehic says that it’s usually followed up by more questions, especially if they have a good understanding of the history of our region. But generally, it never resorts to negative reactions.
“I think it’s in our genetic nature to be interesting, optimistic and wholehearted. This is why people seem to view Bosnians so positively. I think we’re a bit like the Irish—it’s impossible to hate an Irish person.”
Answering on the question of his plans for the next five years, he says that he is currently finishing his debut short story collection, a book called Sadvertising “that explores the existential dramas of the global creative industry”.
“I wrote this book in Sarajevo last year where I lived between 2018 and 2019. Right now, I am putting the final touches to the book. Once I get over this hurdle, I have another short story collection I want to embark on, a novella about modern love, then I think, it’ll be a big epic novel, which I want to set in the village I grew up in, Suhača, just outside of Bosanski Novi (Novi Grad) where I lived for the first seven years of my life,” Mr. Cehic concludes.
New Metonyms is now available with worldwide shipping via www.newmetonyms.com
Interview by Zejna Yesilyurt