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Love and Obstacles Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 14, 2009
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Top Customer Reviews
Stairway to Heaven, the first and one of the best stories, shows the adolescent Bogdan caught between the queasy thrills of transgression and the stifling security of childhood. The last line is a killer. Smurza's Room is a beautifully executed story about the heavy toll extracted when you try to integrate into a new culture. The Bees is a hilarious and heartbreaking look at a taciturn man trying to find the right words to define the truth of his life.
American Commando is perhaps the least successful story, because it's the most schematic. Two of the better stories deal with Bogdan's fraught relations with older writers. The Noble Truths of Suffering starts off in one direction as a young writer bearding a literary lion and then becomes something else altogether, a story about the way real events get transmuted into art, which is in effect what this whole book is about, that and how complicated and misbegotten this world can be.
Hemon is a sly writer, scuttling crabwise toward his point, but there always is one, usually about the gap between what he'd like the world to be and what it is. Part of Hemon's appeal is the risk he takes by putting his dour, self-absorbed sensibility on display and then using his considerable artistic gifts to transcend it. If he wasn't so funny, he might get dreary; if he wasn't so insightful, his self-absorption would become boring; if he wasn't such a deft describer and storyteller, his limited plot range might seem stifling.
Right now he's a writer on a roll. The only question left is whether he'll employ his immense talent outside the cloistral confines of his own story.
I've read all of Aleksandar Hemon's books. They have been blurbed and reviewed by the most enthusiastic of blurbers and reviewers: "dazzling, astonishingly creative prose" with "remarkable, haunting autobiographical elements." The latest Hemon offering, Love and Obstacles, is a series of short stories, most of which continue in Hemon's now familiar reminiscent strain. They amount to a kind of Bildungsroman, the story of a guy from Sarajevo who comes to America--in a word, Hemon's own story, and therein lies the problem. Or, to put it more precisely, there may have been no problem when he started writing in this nostalgic, reminiscent vein, but by now the problem is obvious. What I'm writing about below is, primarily, that problem.
What seems to have most dazzled and astonished the blurbers and reviewers of Hemon's books is his ability to find unusual metaphors and write with unique phrasing in his adopted language. Once again in Love and Obstacles his sentences are often impressive. In the first story, "Stairway to Heaven," "the night smelled of burnt flesh and fecundity; the darkness outside was spacious and uncarvable." In later stories a freezer smells of "clean subzero death," (58), a "cataractous moon" hangs in the sky (36), the poet Dedo exudes "a rotten-fruit smell, as if his flesh had fermented" (78)--Hemon is good at describing smells, especially the most repellent of smells.
Some pages have sunbursts of brilliant imagery; on p. 69-70, e.g., there is the boy rolling the body of someone shot by a sniper up a hill, and the rock of Sisyphus is recalled.Read more ›
First (in "Stairway to Heaven") we meet him as an angst-filled sixteen year old, affecting boredom, and spending time in Africa, where his father is a diplomat, where he keeps meaning to write down everything that happens but keeps getting distracted by the subject of his would-be writing.
Next (in "Everything") we meet him as a teenager, a frenetic writer of poetry, on his first trip alone, to buy a freezer chest for the family, looking to score some meaningful rites of passage.
In "The Conductor," our character is in his mid-twenties when he has the fortune to meet a poet (Muhammed D.) who has four poems published in the Anthology of Contemporary Bosnian Poetry." Muhammed D. introduces him to other Bosnian poets of note... as a conductor - a role he is stuck with perhaps forever.
"Good Living" tells our author's story, before the war in Bosnia, when he was struggling to make a living in Chicago, selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door. He is invited in by a priest in the midst of a lover's quarrel. Finally, as the quarrel crescendos, and the priest is banging his head with a pillow, howling in pain, the author tries to slip away only to be stopped. It seems the priest desperately wants to buy subscriptions to "American Woodworker" and "Good Living.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Although I read most of these stories when they were published in "The New Yorker" magazine, reading them again collected together made me realize the breath, depth and... Read morePublished 10 months ago by tony giffone
The most amazing thing to me is Hemon's flexibility in English. It's not only that he has a huge vocabulary, but it's, also, that he's completely at home with idiomatic English or... Read morePublished on January 26, 2014 by jean chases
Wonderful writing, clear, powerful, emotional. Speaks of the fears, challenges and life's unexpected stories. Read morePublished on January 8, 2014 by Merima
Hemon at his best. His talent is maturing, and these stories, written while he was writing Lazarus Project, are less experimental and more moving than his earlier collection, a... Read morePublished on June 19, 2013 by John Dayton
This series of short stories is a little less interesting than those in his previous books. However, the last story is autobiographical in a very unusual and surprising way. Read morePublished on March 13, 2013 by Francisco de Agueda
I bought this book several years ago and finally decided to read it. However, thirty pages in and my attention just wouldn't stick. Read morePublished on December 29, 2012 by Katelyn Collison
This was a required summer reading book for school. Upon delivery I was impressed by the condition the book arrived in and upon reading it i was impressed by the authors talents in... Read morePublished on August 16, 2012 by Borwits
Emigration is hardest when it's involuntary and when you cannot return to your country of origin.
Alexandar Hemon, a native of Bosnia and now a Chicagoan, has based his... Read more