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The Lazarus Project Hardcover – May 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best of the Month, May 2008: America has a richer literary landscape since Aleksandar Hemon, stranded in the United States in 1992 after war broke out in his native Sarajevo, adopted Chicago as his new home. He completed his first short story within three years of learning to write in English, and since then his work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, and The Paris Review and in two acclaimed books, The Question of Bruno and Nowhere Man. In The Lazarus Project, his most ambitious and imaginative work yet, Hemon brings to life an epic narrative born from a historical event: the 1908 killing of Lazarus Averbuch, a 19-year-old Jewish immigrant who was shot dead by George Shippy, the chief of Chicago police, after being admitted into his home to deliver an important letter. The mystery of what really happened that day remains unsolved (Shippy claimed Averbuch was an anarchist with ill intent) and from this opening set piece Hemon springs a century ahead to tell the story of Vladimir Brik, a Bosnian-American writer living in Chicago who gets funding to travel to Eastern Europe and unearth what really happened. The Lazarus Project deftly weaves the two stories together, cross-cutting the aftermath of Lazarus's death with Brik's journey and the tales from his traveling partner, Rora, a Bosnian war photographer. And while the novel will remind readers of many great books before it--Ragtime, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Everything Is Illuminated--it is a masterful literary adventure that manages to be grand in scope and intimate in detail. It's an incredibly rewarding reading experience that's not to be missed. --Brad Thomas Parsons

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. MacArthur genius Hemon in his third book (after Nowhere Man) intelligently unpacks 100 years' worth of immigrant disillusion, displacement and desperation. As fears of the anarchist movement roil 1908 Chicago, the chief of police guns down Lazarus Averbuch, an eastern European immigrant Jew who showed up at the chief's doorstep to deliver a note. Almost a century later, Bosnian-American writer Vladimir Brik secures a coveted grant and begins working on a book about Lazarus; his research takes him and fellow Bosnian Rora, a fast-talking photographer whose photos appear throughout the novel, on a twisted tour of eastern Europe (there are brothel-hotels, bouts of violence, gallons of coffee and many fabulist stories from Rora) that ends up being more a journey into their own pasts than a fact-finding mission. Sharing equal narrative duty is the story of Olga Averbuch, Lazarus's sister, who, hounded by the police and the press (the Tribune reporter is especially vile), is faced with another shock: the disappearance of her brother's body from his potter's grave. (His name, after all, was Lazarus.) Hemon's workmanlike prose underscores his piercing wit, and between the murders that bookend the novel, there's pathos and outrage enough to chip away at even the hardest of hearts. (May)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile; First Edition edition (May 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594489882
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594489884
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,185,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

148 of 158 people found the following review helpful By David J. Loftus on May 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It must be both thrilling and anxiety-provoking for a young writer to find himself compared to Nabokov, Conrad and Rushdie with only one novel and a short story collection to his credit. Aleksandar Hemon, descendant of Ukrainian emigrants to Yugoslavia and a native of Sarajevo, Bosnia, arrived in Chicago for a 1992 visit just ahead of the Balkan war. It took him only three years to begin publishing stories in English, eight to issue his first book and 12 to win a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant."

Aside from the trick of writing in a non-native language, Hemon's not quite in a class with Nabokov and Conrad just yet. But there's no doubt he's become a fluent writer in English, and one that uses the language to unique and pleasing effects. Parallel plots concern the brief life of Lazarus Averbuch, a Jew and recent East European transplant who escaped a pogrom in Moldova only to be mistaken for an anarchist and shot down at 19 by Chicago Police in 1908; and Vladimir Brik, a Bosnian writer with Ukrainian roots who travels to the Ukraine and Sarajevo to research a book on Averbuch as well as his own ancestry.

This story is enlivened by Bosnian and Jewish jokes, and crucial catchphrases that grow in resonance with each reprise: "Home is where somebody notices your absence"; "I am just like everybody else because there is nobody like me in the whole world." The novel also notes the parallels between the U.S. war against anarchism a century ago and its war against terrorism today, without belaboring them.

The Lazarus Project is a story filled with death, despair, missed connections and aching ironies, that somehow manages to be full of humor and hope -- a neat trick whose secret must lie somewhere in Hemon's skilled use of his adopted language.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By SBO on May 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I initially disliked this book: a bit too self-indulgently Artsy with the proliferation of photos and the repetition of imagery (enough with the cans of sardines, already!). But, as you progress through this novel, the true beauty comes out -- and that is in the creation of a narrative voice that is self-aware, self-deprecating, occasionally annoying and almost cataclysmically alone. It is a brilliant study of displacement and solitude, of yearning for and ambivalence towards "home." And a fascinating view on the implications of "storytelling" in all its forms.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Baba Blacksheep on September 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I don't write reviews often, but I felt compelled to do so for this book . As said before, the Lazarus Averbuch affair is interwoven with a strange modern-day odyssey into various cities in Eastern Europe in search of answers. What's really special about this book and what made me really crazy for it was the language. Read it and see for yourself. Some expressions and phrases are so effective and so original that they made the narrative many times more colorful than it already is.
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51 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Nelson H. Wu on June 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
With "The Lazarus Project," wordsmith and Sarajevo-born Aleksandar Hemon takes the real-life, early 1900s murder of a Jewish American at the hands of the Chicago police - the chief of police, no less - and uses it as a point of departure to explore his own immigrant identity. The resulting work of fiction then cuts back and forth between the more engaging, true-crime storyline and the modern-day events, which see Hemon researching the Lazarus tragedy. The murder and its aftermath are constantly interrupted by Hemon's own postmodern shenanigans until it gets buried beneath lots of - to borrow one of Hemon's own phrases - "metaphysical abuse." Hemon's stand-in narrator resorts to the usual self-reflexive narrative tricks and employs the standard self-deprecatory humor, along with a heavy dose of self-loathing. And, as usual, it all ends with a moment of renewal and redemption, thanks to the power of storytelling. (Hemon wanders dangerously close to Amy Tan territory.) It's a pity that the talented writer didn't tell the story straight because he clearly did his research. In fact, he has an irritating tendency to quote verbatim long passages from real newspaper clippings, even when describing the contents of a room or crime scene. Couldn't Hemon have used his own words? Even the photographs, some of them actual shots from the early 20th century, that precede each chapter start to seem like a narrative crutch to build mood and atmosphere.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Mowat on December 26, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book was original, absorbing and yet confusing. Billed as being the story of Lazarus Averbuch, murdered by the Chicago Chief of Police in 1908, and the research journey a century later of a writer, Vladimir Brik, planning to write Lazarus' history, it evolved into many more stories than those two.
I had expected something like "the devil in the white city" with a chapter to each story, but instead, the two stories become intertwined, sharing chapters, switching stories from paragraph to paragraph. To add to my confusion, some of the names are the same in 1908 and 2008. For example, the Chicago Tribune reporter in 1908 is called Miller, as is a journalist who features prominently in the third story in the book. Similarly, the police investigator in 1908 (Schuettler) is the same name as the person who can give grants to writers in 2008.
The third story is that of Vladimir's friend, fellow-traveler and photographer Rora, who joins Vladimir on his research journey through the post-Communist states of Europe looking for Lazarus' history. Rora and Vladimir knew each other in Sarajevo prior to the war, but Rora stayed behind and his adventures (which may or may not be imaginary) form the third narrative of the book. Rora also livens up the book with periodic jokes about the legendary Bosnian character Mujo and his reaction to impossible situations. As a fourth story, Vladimir describes his own history, and meeting with his American wife and the state of their marriage. And finally, I found it very difficult to separate the author himself from the character of Vladimir Brik, as the book itself was obviously the result of the journey, and seems very autobiographical.
Having listed all that confusion, however, the fact is that it worked well, if you read it at a stretch.
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