At ExCo, we’re always looking for new ways to explore and discuss the concepts of identity, borders and nation. While exchanging books and ideas, we realized how relevant what we read is in defining these concepts. So, we decided to share with you the books that strucked us and somehow formed the cultural universe of Extinguished Countries. Here are some of them.

My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness by Kabi Nagata

When an anxious person lives abroad, the mere ringing of the doorbell can become a challenge. We get tachycardia lifting the intercom, and lose our voice as we ask 'Who is it? Can you repeat? Polako, molim vas (Slowly, please)'. These interactions are especially difficult when an Amazon delivery man insists on handing you a package that you did not order.

When I found myself in this situation, I realised shortly after that it had recently been my birthday, and my best friend had suspiciously asked for my address a few days earlier. In the package I found a manga, through which I started flipping already in the lift. For a couple of days I couldn't put it away, I read it over and over again, spoiling the pages.

In My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, Kabi Nagata manages to summarise in a few sentences, or simple drawings, certain concepts that took me years to identify, understand and accept. Why did I select this manga for the ExCo library? Because it talks about the need to deconstruct the identity we have  (or think we have) in order to really know ourselves.

It is a terrifying process. I already have but a few certainties in life, why undermine them?

But are they really certainties if I am so afraid to touch them? Or are they concepts that I decided to make my own because it was easier like that? Let’s dive into the book.

Once high school is over, all the pillars that had characterised Kabi Nagata's life (high school girl, lover of western films, pottery, and X's friend) collapse, and she feels as if she no longer has any defined boundaries and is about to dissolve into thin air.

The consequences of this are depression, eating disorders and an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. Only with much self-analysis, and through a path of hospitalisation, healing, and relapses, does Kabi gradually manage to get back on her feet, and thanks to a couple of enlightening job interviews, she realises something important about herself.

What drove her choices in the past was not her own will, but the will of a single part of herself, the part that desperately wanted the approval of her parents and society: a tidy house, a steady job and the much-coveted parental approval.

When she chooses not to seek a traditional job, but to focus on drawing manga, she discovers a new energy that she had always seen in other people, but could not find in herself.

This metamorphosis does not happen peacefully, but with inner struggles, fear, victories and defeats. And this is not surprising. Such a radical transformation (which she accomplishes over the course of a decade or so) necessarily leaves marks, it is only natural.

Change in life is not only possible, but inevitable. This, of course, does not mean that it is easy. Deconstructing one's identity in order to be able to observe and care for it is a tiring and stressful process, but just like repotting a plant: you do it so that it can continue to grow.

Written by Chiara.

The life before us by Romain Gary

Dubrava is a neighbourhood east of the centre of Zagreb, commonly considered one of the shadiest areas of the city. I live in Dubrava, and I can assure you that this stereotype is absolutely unjustified. Maybe, it is partly justified. All right, they got a point, but it is at least misleading. Dubrava is a neighbourhood of badasses, fireworks and illegal races.

Why am I telling you this? I’m painting a picture, trust me.

Well, I was in a bar in Dubrava, reading the last pages of “The life before us”  by Romain Gary, the first novel of the “Ex-Co library”. If you read it, you know how consuming the last pages are - no worries, I won’t spoil it - and I was trying so hard not to cry, God knows. I’m already “The Italian”, I woulnd’t enjoy becoming the “Italian crybaby”.

However painful, I’m happy I read it, and I believe it is the perfect book to start our library with.

Momo, the main character, has his whole life before him, but not much behind: his age is unknown, his origins are unclear, and his parents are, themselves, unnamed.

He can only be sure about one thing: his mother was a prostitute. He knows it because he’s taken care of by Madame Rose, and the whole neighbourhood knows that her apartment is a refuge for the sons of those women who were “ladies of the night”.

Madame Rose herself lady of the night, after surviving the concentration camps. She is jewish, even though she carefully erased every proof of it, too marked from the events of the past. She burnt all her papers, and had made new, fake ones. As if she could also delete her identity.

These are the two main characters of the novel, both are without a real identity, without a family.
But is this really the case?
Is identity defined only by our age, our origins or our religion?

This novel seems to respectfully disagree.
Momo and Madame Rose build their identity day by day, through the choices they make and the decisions they take.

The conditions in which Momo lives force him to grow up fast, so much so that at one point, following a bureaucratic misunderstanding, he gains four years at a stroke. He speaks a little Arabic, a little French and a little Hebrew, and he chooses which language to go with depending on the situation, and the same does Madame Rose.

You could judge them as insubstantial and undefined people, but you couldn’t be further away from the truth. They are intensively human, they struggle, they fight, fail, ponder and hope.

No one was born carrying a handbook of life, and it is precisely this effort, this continuous journey of choices and consequences, that makes up our identity, forever incomplete and forever under construction.

Written by Chiara.

Paper Boat Stories d.o.o. 
Ozaljska ulica 112 – Zagreb
10000 Croatia

OIB 52470513648

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