Book Review: Bazhe's Memoir, Damages

Wed. July 16, 2003 12:00 AM by Steven LaVigne

Bazhe's memoir, Damages, arrived in the mail this past January, but, I only browsed the beginning chapters before early March when my father succumbed to cancer. I read most of it on the way to and from his funeral, so my feelings about this book may be affected by that experience.

If one were to judge by the handsome cover photo, we’d never guess that Bazhe has a vivid talent for powerhouse storytelling and Damages is a remarkable, compelling read. Now a U.S. citizen, he is the adopted child of a Macedonian military man and political leader under General Tito. When his father dies, he returns to this homeland, only to learn that his mother is suffering from inoperable colon cancer. He arranges to care for her, leaving behind his lover in New Jersey. During this period, he connects with his birth mother and relates to her the hardships and abuse he faced growing up a child of privilege.

Like Christina Crawford's revelations of a Hollywood child who suffered abuse in her book, Mommie Dearest, Bazhe reveals that repressions and phobias (he has a fear of butterflies) he faced as a gay child aren't so different in Eastern Europe than they are in any other part of the world. (Were a great convention of gay men held somewhere, we'd learn that we all share many of the same experiences.)

The beginning of Bazhe's saga is background material, and he finally reveals himself as a gay man for the first time on page 64. I enjoyed reading about his insecurities, and I share similar traits. He bites his nails as do I. He was a loner in elementary and high school, as was I, and gravitated toward British and American classics. (I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with Melville’s short stories based on Bazhe’s appreciation for them.)

As Damages continues however, with one word chapter titles like "Father," "Mother," "Connection," "Phobia," "Mila," "Childhood," "Army," "College," "Istanboul," "Happiness," "Psycho," "America," and "Orphan," he reveals horribly realistic experiences that had to be lived. No one could have made this up. Following his lonely childhood and schooling, he joined the Yugoslav Army, where he had his first gay encounter, followed by expulsion from the College of National Security when he displayed a little self-expression. In Turkey, a wealthy married man convinced him to live in drag, while he learned, upon his arrival in the United States, that this isn't necessarily the land of the free or the home of the brave.

Bazhe offers foreign perspectives and viewpoints toward the standard American citizen and his commentary on the political and economic history of his homeland goes far too deep to relate in so short a space. While Bazhe has occasional trouble with syntax, nothing can overshadow the final thought from his dying mother, who tells him "to live life and not let life live" you.

Damages was, for me, an important and personal book, because it helped me through a very personal situation. My hope is that it can work a similar magic on you.