Aleksandar Hemon has earned a reputation as one of the English language's most original and moving wordsmiths. In The Lazarus Project, Hemon turns these talents to a novel that intertwines haunting historical atmosphere with sharpsometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreakingstorytelling.
On March 2, 1908, 19-year-old Lazarus Averbuch, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe to Chicago, knocked on the front door of the home of George Shippy, the Chicago chief of police. When Shippy came to the door, Lazarus offered him what he said was an important letter for him. Instead of taking the letter, Shippy shot Lazarus twice, killing him. Shippy released a statement casting Lazarus as a would-be anarchist assassin and agent of foreign political operatives, leaving Lazarus's sister, Olga, bereaved and stranded at the center of a city and a country simmering with ethnic and political tensions.
Now, in the 21st century, a young writer in Chicago, Brik, also from Eastern Europe, becomes obsessed with Lazarus' storywhat really happened, and why? In order to understand Lazarus Averbuch, Brik and his friend Rorawho overflows with stories of his life as a Sarajevo war photographerretrace Lazarus's path backwards across Eastern Europe, through a history of pogroms and poverty, and through a present-day of cheap mafiosi and cheaper prostitutes. The stories of Lazarus and Brik become inextricably entwined, augmented by the photographs that Rora takes on their journey, creating a truly original, provocative, and entertaining novel that will confirm Hemon once and for all as one of the most dynamic and essential literary voices of our time.
It is simple to predict the fate of The Lazarus Project: it will deservedly turn up on many "best of 2008" lists. Its characters have lingered in my mind, but what sets the novel apart is the language that Hemon has imagined into being for describing the reality just to the side of the one in plain view. To dive into a Hemon novel is to feel, at least for the duration of its pages, that we are all exiles from the country of the real. (Reviewed by Amy Reading).
The Washington Post - David Leavitt
The novel is full of jokes and linguistic riffs that justify comparisons to Nabokov. And though the prose occasionally lapses into turgidity…these overwrought moments are more than made up for by the many gorgeous ones.
Now here's a reason to get excited: a true work of art that's as vast and mysterious as life itself. This tender, devastating book is evidence indeed that Hemon is a writer of rare artistry and dept.
Los Angeles Times
[With The Question of Bruno] Hemon proved himself as inventive as Nabokov or Salman Rushdie. He seemed, in other words, to possess the kind of bold talent that doesn't come around very often. And in his follow-up book, Hemon again displays his prodigious gifts—nearly every sentence of this novel is infused with energy and wit. . . . A true original.
New York Times
An extraordinary writer: one who seems not simply gifted but necessary.
Hemon's workmanlike prose underscores his piercing wit, and between the murders that bookend the novel, there's pathos and outrage enough to chip away at even the hardest of hearts.
Starred Review. Hemon brings us a novel worth reading with as much fire as its composition must have demanded.
Profoundly moving...A literary page-turner that combines narrative momentum with meditations on identity and mortality.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Kim Not what I expected I was actually a bit disappointed in this book. I think it’s likely that from the jacket description that I was expecting a historical fiction book that explored the turn-of-the-century life and death of Lazarus Averbuch. It seems as if there’s... Read More
Aleksandar Hemon's extraordinary life story is more than simply fodder for
book publicists. It informs everything he has written, for his work is
restlessly autobiographical, infused with the urgency of thinking through his
life on paper.
In 1992, Hemon was a young Bosnian writer, just two years out of the
University of Sarajevo and about to publish his first book, a collection of
spare and modernist short stories. Then Sarajevo was surrounded by the Yugoslav
National Army and the Bosnian War broke out. Hemon's book was never published.
As he said later, "Stopping that was the best thing the war ever did."
Hemon was on a one-month tour of the United States when his city was
besieged, and the visit turned him into an exile. He escaped the violence of the
war but found himself estranged from his homeland and native language. He made
Chicago his new home, applied for political asylum, and began to learn English.
He completed a master's degree in literature at Northwestern University, and
wrote his first...
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