This week The Dubrovnik Times caught up with the Dubrovnik based author Vedran Mezei. “I Am Here - 7 stories on the journey to the destination” is the title and yes before you ask it is available in English. Mezei set out to write an “inspirational, entertaining and thought-provoking book,” and from the early feedback it would appear that he has succeeded. We found out who his inspirations are, what he did when he reached a crossroads in his life and the journey he went on to create the book.
To begin with, can you tell us what kind of book you have written and what it’s about?
“I Am Here!” is a work of literary fiction, seven different stories that tell the tales of unusual events in the lives of ordinary people. Each of them has, in their own way, come to a crossroads in life and triggered their own transformation. My aim was to write an inspirational, entertaining and thought-provoking book. I hope I've succeeded, but of course, that's for the readers to decide. When I first began writing the book it was some sort of personal reminder of certain themes and messages that I consider to be very important, yet all too often forget in everyday life.
What are those messages?
Perhaps a quote from Carl Gustav Jung best describes them: I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become. The majority of the stories underscore just that: our ability to create our own life. It's for exactly that reason that some of the stories seem to be incomplete as they leave the possibility for the readers to decide for themselves what the final outcome might be.
I was also thinking of a quote by French theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who said: You are not a human being in search for a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience! In addition to the fact that this book is somehow a journey towards discovering one's own fulfilment and purpose, it tries to perceive life beyond the limits of our 5 senses.
How did the book come about, from the original idea to publishing?
Just like the characters from the book, I felt that I had reached a crossroads in my life seven or eight years ago and I wasn't sure where to go. I don't think that is something unusual, and I know many people who have gone through, or are going through a similar experience. However in my case it wasn't the result of a bad event or disappointment in life, quite the opposite. It made me look for the wider meaning of my own existence, if I could call it that. As a result of that quest I began to write a book that represents a signpost at this imaginative intersection and which directs me to the desired destination still today. Of course, I'm not referring to a certain place but instead my own state of being.
It took me two years to write the book. At that time I had two small children and it was difficult to find the right time and place to write. I often carried my laptop with me wherever I would go. Apart from home, I wrote in the car or outside in a quiet place. I remember on one occasion having spent half a day writing in a Zagreb hotel bar while I was in the city for work. I'm sure the waiters thought something was wrong with me…
After I finished writing a few stories, I gave them to a few of my friends to read. They encouraged me to continue and since then everything has taken its course. One evening, I met a professor of Croatian language, Marija Matan Bazdan, who without thinking, offered to proofread the Croatian manuscript. Shortly thereafter, I met with Vesna Čelebić who accepted the challenging task of translating the book into English and did a great job. We needed someone to proofread the English text and came by Mary O'Hara Smith from New York, thanks to Christiane Mandukich. Christiane is a great woman who is always ready to help, as she has shown through the organization of numerous humanitarian actions in Dubrovnik. She is the main "culprit" for me deciding to go through self-publishing.
Finally, the photograph for the wrap was taken by gifted Dubrovnik photographer Božo Prlenda, while the book design was done by my graphic designer brother, Ivica Mezei. Approximately four years have passed from the idea first coming to me to the publishing of the book. Without the people I mentioned above, as well as without my family's support, publishing this book would not be possible. It's been published in English on Amazon as an e-book and in a paperback edition.
Are there any people that inspire your writing that you could say are your role models?
Of course, though I think it is much better that people's actions are our inspiration rather than them as people. That’s because people change throughout their lives, but their works remain. In the story called Last Judgment - First Hearing, exactly this theme is mentioned where one of the characters says: We're all both saints and thieves. We easily turn others into role models or idols. And ever more easily, we throw them off those imaginary thrones so we could judge them.
Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King come to mind. Gandhi's saying is famous: My life is my message! They are very few people who can reasonably claim this. Their messages of non-violence and love show us the direction in which everyone should finally be heading. I disagree with those who say that these teachings are just beautiful words that can't be applied in reality because these people proved in their lives, exactly the opposite.
Perhaps it is not by chance that I remember these two great people because I was born on the same day as Mahatma Gandhi, while my younger daughter was born on the same date as Martin Luther King. Probably because of that, I look somewhat subjectively at them and feel some kind of connection. Of course, I would never want to compare myself in any way with people who have changed the history of mankind with their lives.
Inspiration can also come from so-called ordinary people who live their lives quietly and withdrawn, and at the same time do marvellous things. I learned about Mrs. Agnes Furey. Her courage and kindness impressed me so much that I had to use her story, in part, in my book. Here's how this great woman was described by one man: She gave me my first real insight into what love was because she saw past my condition, and the fact that I was in prison, with a life sentence for murder. And not only for murder, but doing the worst kind of murder that a man can do: murdering a woman and a child. It was Agnes, the mother and grandmother of Patricia and Chris, the woman and child that I murdered who gave me the best lesson on love. By all rights, she should hate me, but she didn’t. Over the course of time and through the journey that we took, it was pretty amazing. She gave me love… she taught me what it was!
No matter how many times I hear these words, they leave such a strong impression on me that it is impossible to describe it. After I heard this man's confession in a documentary film, I searched the internet to find out more about this woman and happened across her contact details. Something forced me to send her a message just to express my respect and admiration. I didn't expect an answer, but she soon replied thanking me for my supportive words. She mentioned to me that she hopes that her example will help other people who had a similar experience, to heal their wounds.
These people are my role models and can be an eternal inspiration for writing. I sincerely hope that their values will prevail in the world we leave to our children.
Can you describe in brief for us, at least one of the 7 stories from the book?
Well, maybe I could say something about the story I've mentioned: Last Judgment - First Hearing, written in the form of a teenage diary. At first it seems that this is a story about Rome and Michelangelo through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy who travels with his classmates to the capital of Italy. There, he experiences his first heartbreak. But as the action comes to an end, it becomes clear that the main theme is finding one's own identity in the challenging teenage years. One of the main characters is a professor of art history who opens his heart to the group of students on the last evening of their stay in Rome, speaking frankly about his view of life. This event ignites a spark in the boy that will fully determine the direction of his life.
Tourists from English-speaking countries regularly visit Dubrovnik. Given that your book is translated into English, do you think that it could be interesting to people who like reading while they’re on holiday? Why would you recommend your book to them?
It's not a comfortable feeling promoting yourself or your own work. Still, I believe this book might be interesting to readers who are otherwise interested in similar topics. Perhaps it would be good to read during your vacation as it consists of 7 stories: so if your vacation lasts seven days - you read one story each day. In addition, the book will take you on a journey around the world; from Paris and Rome, via London and New York, all the way to Rio de Janeiro, while at the same time leading you to some kind of personal journey and self-questioning. The book talks about serious topics in a simple and unobtrusive way beyond the limits of the material and spiritual. But if you, after reading the introduction, are not inclined to continue reading further, then I suggest you put the book down and read something else. Maybe something related to Dubrovnik's history which I find really interesting and special, and could perhaps, among other things, be the subject of my next book...
More about the book and author can be found on the website: