Between the Lines:

| February 1, 2013 | 2 Comments

I Am Lubo

A retired engineer, Lou Pechi has been writing on and off for thirty years, and is now on his second book.

Two years ago I enrolled in an Osher Institute class on memoir writing at SDSU. I thought the topic would be relevant to the personal essays I was writing. It turned out to be most worthwhile, with skill-building exercises and useful writing tips and resources. The instructor, Kathi Diamant, author of “Kafka’s Last Love,” provided excellent and enthusiastic guidance.

Most of the fifteen or so class participants were there for the expressed desire of writing memoirs for posterity—they wanted to tell their stories and leave something for their grandchildren to know who they are and were. This is an admirable creative undertaking, regardless of whatever outcome may or may not result from it. But I suspect that in all the memoir classes in all the adult education programs, the vast majority of aspirants fail to reach their stated goals.

Lou Pechi stood out as an exception; he clearly wasn’t there on a whim. Lou introduced himself as having grown up in a Jewish family in Nazi Croatia during the Second World War and narrowly avoiding being sent to a concentration camp. He clearly had a fascinating and harrowing tale to tell. More than just his story, though, Lou had a plan.

He showed me a chronology he’d developed, from his birth in Zagreb in 1934 to his arrival in the U.S. in 1955, with the progress of the war and his own life events methodically recorded. For class assignments, Lou presented excerpts from his life in a distinctive voice—innocent childhood exploits, narrow escapes, experiences in Italy and Israel—from among those listed in his outline.

A retired engineer, Lou had been writing on and off for thirty years, but it was only after his move to San Diego several years ago that his memoir plan took shape, coalescing in this class. The key, he said, was when Diamant urged us all to have working titles for our collections. Lou immediately adopted “I Am Lubo” as his title, and it solidified his plan. “That gave me the form for what I was writing,” he said.

It all fell into place from there, because his story is one of trying to possess his own identity throughout constantly shifting surroundings and situations. Accompanying his frequent and sudden moves, name changes symbolized the flux—born Ljubomir (Lubo), over the course of these years he assumed new names and new selves: Vlado, Beniamino, and Levi, until finally, as Louis the American, he was once again “Lubo.”

Lou and I and another class member, Jim Brega, continued to meet weekly for another year after Diamant’s class ended, exchanging, reading and critiquing each other’s work. During that time Pechi met Fergal O’Doherty, a professor of Irish literature at Palomar College. O’Doherty was writing a memoir of growing up in Ireland amid continuous conflict, and they discovered how similar their experiences were. They worked together through Lou’s completion of his work.

Finalizing the book was in part a family affair, with Pechi’s wife, Lenore providing proofreading assistance and his daughter, Nina, designing the cover. The manuscript was assembled with photographs and transcripts of archival letters and documents. More of these, along with excerpts from the book, have been assembled at a website, Independent publishing through CreateSpace on Amazon has been the swift and satisfying conclusion of this journey.

It was with obvious pride and pleasure that Lou presented me with an inscribed copy of his book in early January. I feel honored and thrilled to have observed the process and progress—with Lou’s perseverance and remarkable spirit—from its unfolding to its completion in less than two years.

“What are you going to do now?” I asked him, knowing that Lou isn’t one to sit on his hands or rest on his laurels. And indeed not; he tells me that he’s already started his next book, a fictional biography of his mother. I have no doubt he’ll accomplish whatever he sets out to do.

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