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Reviews of The World and All That It Holds by Aleksandar Hemon

The World and All That It Holds

A Novel

by Aleksandar Hemon

The World and All That It Holds by Aleksandar Hemon X
The World and All That It Holds by Aleksandar Hemon
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 352 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2024, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Chloe Pfeiffer
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About this Book

Book Summary

The World and All That It Holds―in all its hilarious, heartbreaking, erotic, philosophical glory―showcases Aleksandar Hemon's celebrated talent at its pinnacle. It is a grand, tender, sweeping story that spans decades and continents. It cements Hemon as one of the boldest voices in fiction.

As the Archduke Franz Ferdinand arrives in Sarajevo one June day in 1914, Rafael Pinto is busy crushing herbs and grinding tablets behind the counter at the pharmacy he inherited from his estimable father. It's not quite the life he had expected during his poetry-filled student days in libertine Vienna, but it's nothing a dash of laudanum from the high shelf, a summer stroll, and idle fantasies about passersby can't put in perspective.

And then the world explodes. In the trenches in Galicia, fantasies fall flat. Heroism gets a man killed quickly. War devours all that they have known, and the only thing Pinto has to live for are the attentions of Osman, a fellow soldier, a man of action to complement Pinto's introspective, poetic soul; a charismatic storyteller; Pinto's protector and lover.

Together, Pinto and Osman will escape the trenches, survive near-certain death, tangle with spies and Bolsheviks. Over mountains and across deserts, from one world to another, all the way to Shanghai, it is Pinto's love for Osman―with the occasional opiatic interlude―that keeps him going.

SARAJEVO, 1914

THE HOLY ONE kept creating worlds and destroying them, creating worlds and destroying them, and then, just before giving up, He finally came up with this one. And it could be much worse, this world and all that it holds, as I certainly know how to get my hands on some interesting stuff around here. Let's see: LAPIS INFERNALIS, LAUDANUM, next to it, LAVENDER.

Pinto took the laudanum off the shelf, knocking over the lavender tin, which miraculously did not break open when it hit the floor. He released a drop of laudanum onto a sugar lump, watched the brown stain bloom, then placed it in his mouth. While the sugar and bitterness dissolved on his tongue, he picked up the lavender, dipped his nose into the tin, and inhaled—vast Mediterranean flower fields stretched inside him, the blue sea lapping at his soul, a turquoise sky and swallows floating above it all, the laudanum sailing on his blood all the way to his mind, and then beyond. To all the things created at ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The World and All That It Holds is Hemon's best novel, I think. It combines his interests—war and displacement; fables and storytelling; making sense of history; Sarajevo; espionage in East Asia—into a coherent, emotionally consistent narrative, unlike the incongruent chapters of Nowhere Man or the cynical, affected parallels of The Lazarus Project. And his prose is more freewheeling here: the repetitious phrases, the medley of languages, Pinto's attempts at religious poetry, the drug- or fever- or starvation-induced haziness—there's a kind of uncontrolled momentum. Hemon's other fiction tries too hard to be witty—to strike the perfect simile, or to shine a spotlight on some clarifying image. Here, there are no spotlights...continued

Full Review (1143 words)

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(Reviewed by Chloe Pfeiffer).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post
The World and All That It Holds would be an audacious title for a book by anybody except God — or Aleksandar Hemon. But this Bosnian American author will make you a believer.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Throughout a narrative spanning decades, from Sarajevo to Shanghai, the bleakness of war and its aftershocks remains relentless...Yet the writing remains powerful, beautiful, and the epilogue provides an origin story that puts everything that has preceded it in fresh light. Hemon pulls no punches in his most ambitious novel to date.

Publishers Weekly
[A] potent story of love, war, and displacement in the early 20th century...Readers will delight in this sweeping epic.

Author Blurb David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas
The World and All That It Holds is a twisting, turning epic rooted in love in all its forms; an odyssey of statelessness; a haunted museum of history ranging from Sarajevo to Shanghai and Jerusalem; and an apothecary of wit, folklore and unexpectable sentences. This life-stuffed novel is Aleksandar Hemon's masterpiece.

Author Blurb Rabih Alameddine, author of The Wrong End of the Telescope
Aleksandar Hemon's The World and All That It Holds is one of the finest novels I've ever read, and like all great stories, it refuses to be pigeonholed. It's a road novel, an immigrant tale, a ghost story, a family portrait, a mystery, a historical epic, a war novel, and yes, a love story—it is all that and more, a feat of unfettered literary bravura. In short, a masterpiece.

Author Blurb Yiyun Li, author of The Book of Goose
The World and All that It Holds is an explosive novel. Bursting with energy, wits, and insights, it's an epic meditation on history, philosophy, and human conditions. Aleksandar Hemon once again proves him to be one of our most innovative and invigorating novelists.

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Beyond the Book

Little Vienna, a Jewish Haven in Shanghai

Black-and-white photo of a street in the 'Shanghai ghetto,' c. 1943 In Aleksandar Hemon's novel The World and All That It Holds, Rafael Pinto is a Sephardic Jew in Sarajevo at the beginning of the 20th century. When World War I erupts, he's flung east—first to Galicia, in what is now Ukraine and Poland, to fight for the Austro-Hungarian Empire; then to Tashkent, in what is now Uzbekistan, into a Russian prison; then, on foot, through the Taklamakan Desert. He has no passports or papers, no home to return to. He finally ends up in Shanghai, and lives there for almost 20 years.

Indeed, Shanghai was a safe haven for more than 20,000 Jewish refugees in the 1930s and '40s. Most countries and cities had restricted entry for Jews trying to flee Nazi persecution in Europe. But Shanghai didn't require a...

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