Summary and book reviews of The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

The Lazarus Project

by Aleksandar Hemon

The Lazarus Project
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  • First Published:
    May 2008, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2009, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Book Summary

In 1908, 19-year-old Lazarus went to the home of George Shippy, the Chicago chief of police to deliver a letter - but Shippy shot Lazarus twice, killing him. Now, in the 21st century, a young writer, Brik, becomes obsessed with Lazarus' story - what really happened and why? As digs deeper, the stories of Lazarus and Brik become inextricably entwined.

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 sharp—sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking—storytelling.

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' story—what really happened, and why? In order to understand Lazarus Averbuch, Brik and his friend Rora—who overflows with stories of his life as a Sarajevo war photographer—retrace 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.

Excerpt
The Lazarus Project

The time and place are the only things I am certain of: March 2, 1908, Chicago. Beyond that is the haze of history and pain, and now I plunge:

Early in the morning, a scrawny young man rings the bell at 31 Lincoln Place, the residence of George Shippy, the redoubtable chief of Chicago police. The maid, recorded as Theresa, opens the door (the door certainly creaks ominously), scans the young man from his soiled shoes up to his swarthy face, and smirks to signal that he had better have a good reason for being here. The young man requests to see Chief Shippy in person. In a stern German accent, Theresa advises him that it is much too early and that Chief Shippy never wishes to see anybody before nine. He thanks her, smiling, and promises to return at nine. She cannot place his accent; she is going to warn Shippy that the foreigner who came to see him looked very suspicious.

The young man descends the stairs, opens the gate (which also creaks ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

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.

Esquire

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.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Hemon brings us a novel worth reading with as much fire as its composition must have demanded.

Kirkus Reviews

Profoundly moving...A literary page-turner that combines narrative momentum with meditations on identity and mortality.

Reader Reviews

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 a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Aleksandar Hemon

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 ...

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