Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon

DATE PUBLISHED: 2008 DATE READ: September 2009 NOTES: This is a really fascinating book. Like other good writers whose first language is not English (eg Nabokov, Conrad) Hemon brings to his work a freshness and vitality. His lead character’s confusion between “sadness” and “sardines” is a particularly nice example. The chapters alternate between the 1900s and present day in Chicago. The earlier part of the book tells the story of a young Jewish (possible) Anarchist (Lazarus Averbuch) and his murder by the Chief of Police. Much of this strikes chords with today’s situation – fear of terrorists, immigrants, police cover-ups, political bias of the press. This is based on actual events – although many of the facts remain uncertain. The other part is the story of a would-be writer Brik who is planning a book on Lazarus and sets off on a journey to Europe to find out about his origins. But he himself has his own memories of the war following the break-up of Yugoslavia so he decides to include a visit to his home country. He is accompanied by a photographer friend whose own actions in the past do not bear too much scrutiny. Sometimes the story of Lazarus leeches into the modern day chapters. When this occurred I took it to mean that these parts were being imagined by Brik whereas the 1908 chapters were what actually happened. The ending was somewhat ambivalent – but then life is often like that and some things do not end neatly. I am not sure about the photographs. The old ones from the Chicago archives were interesting but the modern ones were so poorly reproduced that I didn’t know their purpose.

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