Aleksandar Hemon's lives begin in Sarajevo, a small, blissful city where a young boy's life is consumed with street soccer with the neighborhood kids, resentment of his younger sister, and trips abroad with his engineer-cum-beekeeper father. Here, a young man's life is about poking at the pretensions of the city's elders with American music, bad poetry, and slightly better journalism. And then, his life in Chicago: watching from afar as war breaks out in Sarajevo and the city comes under siege, no way to return home; his parents and sister fleeing Sarajevo with the family dog, leaving behind all else they had ever known; and Hemon himself starting a new life, his own family, in this new city.
And yet this is not really a memoir. The Book of My Lives, Hemon's first book of nonfiction, defies convention and expectation. It is a love song to two different cities; it is a heartbreaking paean to the bonds of family; it is a stirring exhortation to go out and play soccer—and not for the exercise. It is a book driven by passions but built on fierce intelligence, devastating experience, and sharp insight. And like the best narratives, it is a book that will leave you a different reader—a different person, with a new way of looking at the world—when you've finished. For fans of Hemon's fiction, The Book of My Lives is simply indispensable; for the uninitiated, it is the perfect introduction to one of the great writers of our time.A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2013
Hemon is known for fiction like Nowhere Man and The Lazarus Project, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, but this work is his first volume of nonfiction. A collection of 15 mostly previously published essays assembled in somewhat chronological order, the book has the feel of a patchwork memoir that focuses on defining and enlightening moments in the author s life rather than his existence as a whole. The lives of the title refer to his formative years growing up in Sarajevo and his adult life as a resident to Chicago and the stories are basically split between these two worlds. The first half of the book finds Hemon writing about himself and socio-political beliefs such as communism, socialism, and journalism, and the tales while important in the context of the Bosnian War of the 90s lack a wider perspective that would make them more inviting and compelling. But with the eighth entry, Dog Lives, which centers on two family pets and straddles both Hemon s homes, the author begins to reveal more of his feelings, dwelling less on philosophy, thereby creating a true connection with his subject and audience. As he goes on to focus on his adopted hometown, the immigrants he plays soccer with, the chess players at his local cafe, and his past and present lovers, the themes and writing become more personal, emotional, and dynamic. The book culminates with The Aquarium, 28 heart-wrenching pages of powerful prose originally published in the New Yorker, about his infant daughter s battle with cancer that is nothing short of a tour de force; its terrible beauty demonstrates Hemon s transformation as a writer and a man.
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I felt like an alien as I read this book, someone permitted to occupy Alexandar Hemon's life. I could smell the borscht and taste beets and other ingredients. I felt the love of family, both in Sarayevo, Yugoslavia, Hamilton Ontario Canada, or Chicago, IL. I also love Chicago the same way that he does. "Loving Chicago is like loving a girl with a broken nose." That perfect sentence by Hemon says everything.