The Fly in the Soup
When Charles Simic was three years old, the Germans bombarded his home town, Belgrade. "All the children played war games. How we loved the sound of machine guns! This way of playing drove the grown-ups crazy!" And the grown-ups were mad enough in the first place. What a cast of characters: the aunt who squandered her money, used "common" words and pursued a dubious trade; the grandfather, whose hatred of the church made him box the ears of priests; the uncle who stole a German military truck to take his girl-friend for a spin. And the father: he is the much-loved hero of Simic's recollections, a story-teller and rascal of the type who would go out for cigarettes and return, blind drunk and crawling on all fours, two days later. In the spring of 1944 the bombardment of Belgrade was taken over by the English and Americans, then – at last – came peace. Meanwhile, "without anybody knowing it, I had stopped going to school." Instead, Charles embarked on a questionable career as a layabout and – observer. In June 1953 his mother obtained permission for herself and the two children to leave the country, and, in 1954, after a year in Paris, visas were issued for the USA.
"My childhood was a black and white movie", Simic says at one point, but the obstacles in the path of a "normal" childhood have rarely been rendered as colourfully, ironically, movingly or amusingly as they are here.