Facility Spring Cleaning Textbook Trade In Amazon Fashion Learn more Discover it $5 Albums Fire TV Stick Grocery Made in Italy Amazon Gift Card Offer out2 out2 out2  Amazon Echo  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Echo Dot  Amazon Tap  Amazon Echo Introducing new colors Kindle Paperwhite UniOrlando Shop Now SnS

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars27
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on May 30, 2000
I was blown away by these stories - A Coin left me breathless, I haven't read such an impressive story about war since Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried. Islands was a beauty, with a truly disturbing layer of brutal politics and history lying underneath the tale of a family holiday. I could go on about all the stories but I don't want to give too much away. Hemon is a fantastic writer.
0Comment|14 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on August 28, 2000
I have learned about this writer and his first published book by reading the "Books" section of the Chicago Tribune. One can count on their fingers contemporary writers from Eastern Europe whose work is recongized here: Danilo Kis, Milorad Pavic, Dubravka Ugresic, Slavenka Drakulic to name a few. However, the works of Aleksandar Hemon stand out. This is the first (slavic) writer who actually wrote his works in his second language (english). It took a lot of courage to do so. And do not think that this book will be some sort of exploitation on the theme of the civil war in former Yugoslavia. It is a complex collection of the stories which all have something in common between them. Written by the writer from Bosnia who is not Muslim, or Croat, or Serb, but rather tries to separate his own nationality by calling himself Bosnian of the Ukranian descent. The stories will take you not only thru his experience in Bosnia but also one learns about (Eastern European)immigrant life in Chicago. Mr. Hemon's stories can be heavy at times and he knows just the right moment to add some comic element in it that will lift reader up. In either case, these are provocative stories that will make you think about them, long after you finished reading the book. I am hoping to see more work from this talented writer in the near future.
0Comment|8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on April 23, 2002
Alexander Hemon left his home in Sarajevo in 1992 to visit a friend in Chicago. The visit was intended to last a few months. Hemon never returned to Bosnia, however, because the Bosnian-Serb army had surrounded his hometown on the very day he planned to return. Undaunted, Hemon, a half-Serbian, half-Ukrainian writer, remained in Chicago, where he worked at a number of menial jobs and began learning English. He published his first story in English in 1995 and, five years later, the collection of seven stories and a novella that form "The Question of Bruno."
Perhaps because he is from Eastern Europe and had been a writer in his native language before he learned English, he has often been compared to Nabokov. While the comparison is simplistic, it is seemingly suggested by Hemon himself, at one point, when he related to Salon Magazine how he learned English: "I read 'Lolita' in English and underlined the words I didn't know." However, unlike Nabokov, who circulated largely in academic circles, Hemon spent two and a half years canvassing for Greenpeace, where he met and spoke with thousands of people of every stripe, developing an ear for English as it is actually spoken. It is not surprising, then, that Hemon's writing is less academic and obscure than that of Nabokov.
"The Question of Bruno" is a remarkably good collection of stories that continually engage the reader. Like many first works of fiction, the stories, while fictional, appear to draw heavily from Hemon's own experiences, particularly those of living under Marshall Tito's communism and the implosion of Yugoslavia which followed Tito's death, of growing up in a family with roots in both Serbia and the Ukraine, and, ultimately, living and writing in a language not his own. Hemon's writing is vivid, intelligent and darkly humorous, his style marked by keen description and uniquely discordant turns of phrase that sometimes seem to reflect his alienation from the English language in which he writes as much as his remarkable skill as a writer.
The best of the stories in this collection is "A Coin," a tale of Aida, a woman living in Sarajevo under siege, and a man, presumably Hemon, living in Chicago, where he worries about Aida, about whether she is still among the living. Thus, Aida relates what it's like in Sarajevo: "Suppose there is a Point A and a Point B and that, if you want to get from Point A to Point B, you have to pass through an open space clearly visible to a skillful sniper." And Hemon, the author, relates from the disconnected safety of his dingy Chicago apartment: "I open my mailbox-a long tunnel dead-ending with a dark square-and I find Aida's letter, I shiver with dread. What terrifies me is that, as I rip the exhausted envelope, she may be dead. . . I dread the fact that life is always slower than death and I have been chosen, despite my weakness, against my will, to witness the discrepancy." "A Coin" is a remarkable story which vividly captures both the hellish, contingent existence of Aida in war-torn Sarajevo and the dark anxiety of her Chicago correspondent.
"The Sorge Spy Ring" is another outstanding story, the fictional childhood memoir of a boy growing up in Sarajevo during the time of Tito, a boy fascinated with spies who develops an elaborate fantasy that his father is a spy. It is a fantasy that seemingly becomes grim reality when Marshal Tito's security police appear in the middle of the night and take the boy's father away. He is released from prison several years later, "diagnosed with brain cancer, curled into an old man, with most of his teeth missing." Longer than the story itself is the subtext, a series of forty footnotes that relate snippets of the biography of Richard Sorge, a real-life Soviet spy who achieved high rank in the German army and the Nazi Party and was eventually executed by Japanese security police in 1944.
"Exchange of Pleasant Words" is a wonderful fictional memoir of the Hemon family history and a Hemon family reunion of sorts. "Inspired by the success of the Sarajevo Olympiad and the newly established ancient family history, the family council, headed righteously by my father, decided to have an epic get-together, which was to be held only once, and was to be recorded as the Hemoniad."
"Blind Josef Pronek & Dead Souls," which runs to nearly eighty pages and may be characterized as a novella, tells the story of a man named Pronek who emigrates to Chicago from Sarajevo in 1992. The story appears to be, of course, the thinly fictionalized, episodic story of the author himself. While somewhat uneven in quality, the story within the novella titled "Iceberg Lettuce, Romaine Lettuce" is a wonderfully humorous narrative of Pronek's first job in the United States that displays Hemon's writing at its best.
"The Life and Work of Alphonse Kauders" is a series of short, factual statements about a character named Alphonse Kauders, who appears Zelig-like (as one reviewer has aptly put it) at various important moments in history and with various historical personages. It is a humorous and enigmatic piece that is accompanied by a glossary providing background on its referents.
Finally, there are three shorter stories. "Imitation of Life" is a wonderful little memoir of childhood recollection, fantasy and film. "The Accordion" is an almost photographic tale of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. "Islands," the first story in the book, is another reminiscence of a childhood trip from Yugoslavia to the coast that suffers from excessive and discordant use of language. It is the weakest of the writing in this collection, a story that has a kind of strangeness that apparently derives as much from Hemon's alienation from the English language as it does from any innate skill as a writer.
0Comment|14 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on November 6, 2000
You don't get far with "The Question of Bruno" without knowing a little about Aleksander Hemon, so here goes : born in Sarajevo in 1964, emigrated to Chicago in 1992, took a series of menial job-type-jobs (bus boy, waiter, you get the picture) and wrote - in English, not his first tongue - at night or whenever else he could. Oh, and you wont find a single bit of Hemon-related information that does not include a reference to Nabokov. Hemon is the new Nabokov, you see?
"The Question of Bruno" is made up of seven shortish short stories and one not-quite-a-novella. In "The Sorge Spy Ring" (an intensely irritating story to read, it has to be said, due to the huge number of footnotes), Hemon relates how - following reading a book on a charismatic WWII spy called Sorge - he started believing his own father was a spy. The footnotes act as a synopsis of the biography young Hemon read. Prior to the Sorge story, we hear about Alphonse Kauders, who knew Sorge. The Kauder story is funny. This seems to surprise people for whatever reason. You can hear them bubbling at fashionable parties. He comes from Sarajevo? Yes, and he's funny. The Alphonse Kauders story is funny like Vonnegut (funny like "Hocus Pocus"). Elsewhere - in "Islands", in the lovely "The Accordion" - Hemon explores his past, his ancestry, his "Hemonhood", the relation of Hemon(s) to the world and to history.
Some of the stories are good. Some of the stories are beautiful. All of the stories - even the irritating ones - show potential. That is the most important word.
Years from now, out back of some old pawnbroker's shop, this old guy will unearth this book (he'll have it wrapped up in cloth, buried at the bottom of a chest) and talk about the great potential young Hemon showed. Course, the old pawnbroker will know whether Hemon made good. That's the danger right now. Everybody says Hemon, Nabokov / Nabokov, Hemon. It's the kind of thing could go to your head if you let it. It's the kind of thing could spoil whatever comes next.
You should read "The Question of Bruno" because it's good. You should praise "The Question of Bruno" because it is brave and shows potential.
You should be hesitant - and excited - about whatever comes next, and you should read whatever he does next because - that's the test.
0Comment|10 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on July 31, 2001
Alexander Hemon left his home in Sarajevo in 1992 to visit a friend in Chicago. The visit was intended to last a few months. Hemon never returned to Bosnia, however, because the Bosnian-Serb army had surrounded his hometown on the very day he planned to return. Undaunted, Hemon, a half-Serbian, half-Ukrainian writer, remained in Chicago, where he worked at a number of menial jobs and began learning English. He published his first story in English in 1995 and, five years later, the collection of seven stories and a novella that form "The Question of Bruno."
Perhaps because he is from Eastern Europe and had been a writer in his native language before he learned English, he has often been compared to Nabokov. While the comparison is simplistic, it is seemingly suggested by Hemon himself, at one point, when he related to Salon Magazine how he learned English: "I read `Lolita' in English and underlined the words I didn't know." However, unlike Nabokov, who circulated largely in academic circles, Hemon spent two and a half years canvassing for Greenpeace, where he met and spoke with thousands of people of every stripe, developing an ear for English as it is actually spoken. It is not surprising, then, that Hemon's writing is less academic and obscure than that of Nabokov.
"The Question of Bruno" is a remarkably good collection of stories that continually engage the reader. Like many first works of fiction, the stories, while fictional, appear to draw heavily from Hemon's own experiences, particularly those of living under Marshall Tito's communism and the implosion of Yugoslavia which followed Tito's death, of growing up in a family with roots in both Serbia and the Ukraine, and, ultimately, living and writing in a language not his own. Hemon's writing is vivid, intelligent and darkly humorous, his style marked by keen description and uniquely discordant turns of phrase that sometimes seem to reflect his alienation from the English language in which he writes as much as his remarkable skill as a writer.
The best of the stories in this collection is "A Coin," a tale of Aida, a woman living in Sarajevo under siege, and a man, presumably Hemon, living in Chicago, where he worries about Aida, about whether she is still among the living. Thus, Aida relates what it's like in Sarajevo: "Suppose there is a Point A and a Point B and that, if you want to get from Point A to Point B, you have to pass through an open space clearly visible to a skillful sniper." And Hemon, the author, relates from the disconnected safety of his dingy Chicago apartment: "I open my mailbox-a long tunnel dead-ending with a dark square-and I find Aida's letter, I shiver with dread. What terrifies me is that, as I rip the exhausted envelope, she may be dead. . . I dread the fact that life is always slower than death and I have been chosen, despite my weakness, against my will, to witness the discrepancy." "A Coin" is a remarkable story which vividly captures both the hellish, contingent existence of Aida in war-torn Sarajevo and the dark anxiety of her Chicago correspondent.
"The Sorge Spy Ring" is another outstanding story, the fictional childhood memoir of a boy growing up in Sarajevo during the time of Tito, a boy fascinated with spies who develops an elaborate fantasy that his father is a spy. It is a fantasy that seemingly becomes grim reality when Marshal Tito's security police appear in the middle of the night and take the boy's father away. He is released from prison several years later, "diagnosed with brain cancer, curled into an old man, with most of his teeth missing." Longer than the story itself is the subtext, a series of forty footnotes that relate snippets of the biography of Richard Sorge, a real-life Soviet spy who achieved high rank in the German army and the Nazi Party and was eventually executed by Japanese security police in 1944.
"Exchange of Pleasant Words" is a wonderful fictional memoir of the Hemon family history and a Hemon family reunion of sorts. "Inspired by the success of the Sarajevo Olympiad and the newly established ancient family history, the family council, headed righteously by my father, decided to have an epic get-together, which was to be held only once, and was to be recorded as the Hemoniad."
"Blind Josef Pronek & Dead Souls", which runs to nearly eighty pages and may be characterized as a novella, tells the story of a man named Pronek who emigrates to Chicago from Sarajevo in 1992. The story appears to be, of course, the thinly fictionalized, episodic story of the author himself. While somewhat uneven in quality, the story within the novella titled "Iceberg Lettuce, Romaine Lettuce" is a wonderfully humorous narrative of Pronek's first job in the United States that displays Hemon's writing at its best.
"The Life and Work of Alphonse Kauders" is a series of short, factual statements about a character named Alphonse Kauders, who appears Zelig-like (as one reviewer has aptly put it) at various important moments in history and with various historical personages. It is a humorous and enigmatic piece that is accompanied by a glossary providing background on its referents.
Finally, there are three shorter stories. "Imitation of Life" is a wonderful little memoir of childhood recollection, fantasy and film. "The Accordion" is an almost photographic tale of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. "Islands", the first story in the book, is another reminiscence of a childhood trip from Yugoslavia to the coast that suffers from excessive and discordant use of language. It is the weakest of the writing in this collection, a story that has a kind of strangeness that apparently derives as much from Hemon's alienation from the English language as it does from any innate skill as a writer.
0Comment|4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on October 13, 2002
Beautifully written, stylistically without peer. A collection of stories presented in a deadpan manner, the reader is allowed to emphasize what they wish. It is interesting that Hemon, writing in a language that is not his mother tongue, is able to utilize the english language in a way that makes the greatest impact upon the reader. Causes the reader to question the universal nature of emotions not usuallly questioned, such as whimsy. To read a story like "The Life and Work of Alphonse Kauders" is too see a refugee from Sarajevo toying with absurdity, and owning it. "Islands" is one of the most beautiful stories I've ever read. In truth that one story has the power to fill a reader with hope and ambition. I read in hopes of finding stories like "Islands".
22 comments|4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on May 18, 2000
This is one of the best literary debuts I've ever read--no, scratch that; make it "one of the best literary WORKS." The author is a recent immigrant to the U.S. and has only just learned how to speak and write in English, yet what he accomplished in this brilliant collection of stories is simply amazing. I've heard him being compared to Nabokov (another immigrant for whom English isn't the native language), and I can honestly say that such hyped-up comparison, for once, is accurate. Some of the stories here are outright autobiographical, some of them are highly experimental, but almost all of them are historical, recounting stories from the recent atrocities in Sarajevo to the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. I would say that if you like literature in general, and particularly if you love writers such as Nabokov, Bulgakov, and Borges, you'll not want to pass this one up. It's superb! Absolutely first-rate stuff!
0Comment|6 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on May 15, 2001
"Generally speaking, the intellectual class is made up of men of average or less than average intelligence..." and the entire book is peppered with such truisms and wicked observations. In fact, all of the stories in this book seem to rest on a certain acid wit and, inasmuch as most of them are (semi)autobiographical, a great deal of mild, but honest self-deprecation. Hemon's childhood reminiscences written in story form are very skillfully rendered. His observations as the struggling refugee in America are particularly amusing - and there's always something mildy disturbing about them all. I'll refrain from making bold pronouncements about Hemon's place in world literature or even post-Yugoslav-war-in-Bosnia-trauma literature; these stories are simply well-written, interesting and often funny. If nothing else, it's quite entertaining to see the practical use of words taken straight from the high-school SATs, like crepuscular, glissade, hypocoristic and nacreously.
0Comment|3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on February 17, 2015
Come to this book with an open mind. You may find yourself asking, "what is this?" on one reading, and then on another, "This is brilliant." Don't give up on it. It's worth it, just from the idea of exploring concepts, with the idea that refreshing and confusing are not necessarily negating of one another. Kudos!!!
0Comment|Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on June 30, 2000
Hemon's gift for language and the nuances of his fiction are astounding. His work exceeds what one would "expect" from a Bosnian refugee, even though that experience alone is ample subject for fictional and non-fictional reflection. Indeed, the blend of his particular circumstances and universal concerns of humanity truly marks him as a great writer; this is one of the best works I have ever read.
0Comment|8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Customers also viewed these items

$11.61

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.