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.Read more...
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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.""
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-01-14
- Reviewer: Staff
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. Agent: Nicole Aragi, the Aragi Agency. (Mar.)
Finding a place in two cities, Chicago and Sarajevo
In March of 1992 Aleksandar Hemon came to Chicago on what was supposed to be a month-long cultural exchange. During that month his native Sarajevo came under siege, and the war that he and his city had been wishing away came thundering home. Hemon, then 27, decided not to return. He stayed in Chicago, worked odd jobs and began writing stories in English, a language of which he had only an imperfect grasp. Eight years later he published his first collection of short stories, and eight years after that he published a novel, The Lazarus Project, that had the critics swooning and made him a finalist for the National Book Award. Along the way, Hemon published a number of autobiographical essays, many of them in The New Yorker, and it’s those pieces that are collected in The Book of My Lives.
As with his fiction, the essays here—though originally written as freestanding pieces—work together as a set of interlocking stories. In his careful, occasionally idiosyncratic prose, Hemon works his familiar theme of displacement, as experienced by those whom the forces of history (or, in the tragic final story, of biology) have yanked out of their old lives. The stories are set mostly in Sarajevo and Chicago, and they focus mostly on individual components of his lives in one or both of those cities: rambling walks, soccer matches, chess games, pet dogs, borscht. They give a vivid sense both of the texture of the two cities and of the pain, and eventual joy, Hemon felt in abandoning one for the other.
By turns sardonic and forlorn, Hemon’s tales illustrate the absurdity of war (the story of a beloved professor who became a genocidal nationalist is especially chilling), the enigma of arrival and the tragedy of finding your most cherished plans crushed by an onslaught of inhuman forces.