Saturday, December 27, 2008

book review: the lazarus project by aleksandar hemon

Sentence(s) worth remembering: "Home is where somebody notices when you are no longer there." (p. 3)

"The world is always greater than your desires; plenty is never enough." (p. 3)

"I am just like everybody else, Isador always says, because there is nobody like me in the whole world." (p. 5)

"She was beautiful; my breath was taken; we were still lonely; she said yes." (p. 32)

"Nobody can control resemblances, any more than you can control echoes." (p. 106)

The Lazarus Project was the first book I read in my quest to read all of the National Book Award nominees. I had not read Aleksandar Hemon before, but I will again. Hemon is originally from Bosnia-Herzogovenia, but has lived in Chicago more than ten years. His transforming method of writing English is mesmerizing. Although this story is intriguing, I found myself most enthralled with his writing. He uses semicolons more brilliantly and intriguingly than anyone I've ever read. There's a reason he won a genius grant from the the MacArthur Foundation.

The story occurs in two time periods. First, it's the story of Lazarus Averbuch, who went to see the chief of police in Chicago in 1908, handed him a letter, and was shot. His death, which really happened, remains a mystery, and is a subject of much speculation, particularly for anarchists and immigrants. Contemporarily, Vladimir Brik, a writer and immigrant from Sarajevo married to an American neurosurgeon and living in Chicago, becomes fascinated by the case of Lazarus Averbuch and sets off to retrace the steps of Lazarus' life. The chapters alternate between the two centuries, and the story unfolds beautifully through this combination of voices.

Hemon is a brilliant talent, and I hope his mastery and transforming power with the English language continues.

rating: 3 stars (loved it)

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