By February 15, 2009 0 Comments Read More →

The Aleksandar Hemon Experience

  I’d heard so much about him, I decided he was overrated before I even read the first sentence. Then I read the first sentence. And the next, and the next. So this is Aleksandar Hemon.

  Well, it’s been a long time since I read anything with so many astonishing, brilliant moments. I’m halfway through an advance of his latest book, Love and Obstacles, and it just keeps me gasping. Gorgeous, rope-like prose, plots that I can’t predict, believable first-person narration. I have to keep closing the book, pausing to let my wits catch up with my surprise and delight.

  These sentences feel like they were manicured to give maximum beauty and pleasure. They’re shockingly artful without being artsy-fartsy. They use language in unexpected ways that don’t seem show-offy as much as necessary and blazingly true. And there’s a mind behind these sentences that is razor sharp and fearless.

  That Aleksandar Hemon is not a native English-speaker only adds to my amazement. Visiting the United States when war broke out in Sarajevo, he was unable to return home and now makes Chicago his home. To our great enrichment!

  I’d heard nothing but praise for his The Lazarus Project, but the sheer oddness of the topic had kept me at a distance. It’s about a Jewish immigrant in 1908 who knocks on the door of the Chicago chief of police and is shot dead, and then his body seems to go through taxidermy and end up in a carnival, I’m not sure of the details; I’ve tried to avoid knowing too much – and this grim little tale is presented within a contemporary, first-person story investigating the murder.

  Well, I took it home more than once, but it was slightly offputting and I never read it.

Now his new book jumps into my hands, and I can’t put it down. The connected short stories of Love and Obstacles are about a young Bosnian boy coming to the United States, and they’re exhilarating, like a blast of chilly air in a stuffy room. I can’t read more than a couple pages without pausing to re-assess what I’ve just experienced.

  Hemon has an extremely perceptive mind and a bracing, head-on voice. Here’s an author who outspokenly hates the word “carbs” and cars stickered with other people’s thoughts. His stories seem to flow naturally, until you try to predict where they’re going – it’s impossible. You only know once you get there that you’ve been heading there the whole time. The first three stories are rich and generous and profound.

I’m doing my best to write this blog, but I’d much rather be reading the next story. Sorry, pleasure wins, this blog is over. I’m also sorry that Love and Obstacles doesn’t come out until May. You have only one option, to do what I’m going to do next – head for your nearest library or independent bookstore and grab a copy of The Lazarus Project.

  If it’s anything like these stories, it’s an experience you don’t want to miss.

 

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