In this stylistically adventurous, brilliantly funny tour de force-the most highly acclaimed debut since Nathan Englander's-Aleksander Hemon writes of love and war, Sarajevo and America, with a skill and imagination that are breathtaking.
A love affair is experienced in the blink of an eye as the Archduke Ferdinand watches his wife succumb to an assassin's bullet. An exiled writer, working in a sandwich shop in Chicago, adjusts to the absurdities of his life. Love letters from war torn Sarajevo navigate the art of getting from point A to point B without being shot. With a surefooted sense of detail and life-saving humor, Aleksandar Hemon examines the overwhelming events of history and the effect they have on individual lives. These heartrending stories bear the unmistakable mark of an important new international writer.
Jozef Pronek, the quirky Sarajevan who captured the imagination of readers in Hemon's acclaimed story collection (The Question of Bruno), gets full-length treatment in this acutely self-aware and tender first novel. Hemon plunges into the inner world of the observant Pronek, making ordinary events seem extraordinary through the sheer power of his detailed descriptions as his protagonist navigates the war-torn land that was once Marshal Tito's Yugoslavia and the wilds of Chicago in the 1990s. Death is a constant companion for Pronek, as is a mysterious man who shadows him wherever he goes, and their lockstep journey is at the heart of a book that wanders back and forth through time and space. Hemon is stingingly accurate in his portrayal of the small, pivotal moments of youth: Pronek resorting to sliced onions to make himself cry at his grandmother's funeral, his first bungling effort at sex, his noisy rock band and his humiliating stint as a soldier. When Pronek goes to Kiev to visit his grandfather, Hemon effectively spells out his need to make sense of his life and his frustrated nationalism, his love for a country that seems to no longer love itself. The weight of such reflections are counterbalanced by zany scenes like Pronek's encounter with President G.H.W. Bush at a ceremony on the site of the Babi Yar massacre. As a "nowhere man," Pronek travels to Chicago, where he is out of step with the alienated youth culture, a person with a dubious identity and past that is not fully explained until the final chapter. Pronek's constantly reconfiguring life makes the novel a wild, twisty read, and Hemon's inimitable voice and the wry urgency of his storytelling should cement his reputation as a talented young writer.