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The Question of Bruno: Stories Paperback – July 10, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (July 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375727000
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375727009
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Aleksandar Hemon moved to the U.S. from Bosnia in the early 1990s, prior to the siege of Sarajevo. He swiftly learned English and began writing, in his adopted language, stories about the traumas of immigrant experience and the pain of witnessing the war from his American exile. His impressive debut, The Question of Bruno, may lack the fluency and imaginative élan of Kundera and the linguistic density and sophistication of Conrad (both of whom Hemon specifically invokes), yet these stories have a haunting power that lingers long after a first reading.

By turns tragic and darkly comic, the stories are a mixed bag in terms of style. They are unified, however, by theme. In "Islands," for example, a boy and his family visit their Uncle Julius on the island of Mljet, which is infested by the very mongooses that were imported to deal with the snake problem. Julius, veteran of a Stalinist prison camp, takes a stoical tack: "So that's how it is, he said, it's all one pest after another, like revolutions." And when the family returns to Sarajevo, they are greeted by their neglected, starved cat, shaking "with irreversible hatred." The hungry feline returns in another story, when we learn that Sarajevo under siege was filled with starving cats, which were eaten by starving dogs. If it's symbolism you're after, look no further.

One of the best stories, "The Sorge Spy Ring," wonderfully evokes a sad childhood spent in the shadow of Tito's cold war repressions. A man buys his son a portable telegraph set, and the two communicate in Morse code in the privacy of their own home--but later the father is arrested for espionage, and as Tito finally dies, he too languishes on his deathbed, weakly sucking a banana. The image is both poignant and pathetic. It's also the sort of tight close-up that Hemon loves (the camera and the television are dominant images, as one might expect from a writer who resorts to CNN to find out what's happening at home). There are moments when his language is slightly unidiomatic and offkey, as if he's leaned too heavily on a well-thumbed thesaurus. On the whole, though, this is an honest, vivid, and sometimes brilliant collection. --Jonathan Allison --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Much like his protagonist in the novella Blind Jozef Pronek & Dead Souls, the cornerstone of this collection of eight stories, Hemon came to the U.S. as a tourist, but had to stay as a refugee when his native Yugoslavia splintered apart. The expertly wrought stories he has written since movingly set his characters' personal memories side by side with history's accidents, the guilt of exile sharing space with the horrors of war, in both straightforward narratives and border-erasing experiments. The constant themes of war and exile mingle most affectingly in "A Coin," in which a Sarajevan's letters detailing the day-to-day terror of the Yugoslavian conflictDwhat it's like to run the gauntlet of Sniper's Alley or to be unable to bury your dead safelyDreach an uneasy migr in the U.S. who feels eerily isolated from current events and the tides of history. History likewise erupts in "Islands," when a favorite uncle interrupts a family vacation to relate his boyhood experiences in Stalin's labor camps to a narrator not much older than he was then. Elsewhere, history footnotes fiction, as in the experimental "The Sorge Spy Ring," which juxtaposes a wryly compiled case file of an actual Soviet agent with a boy's fantasy of his father's spying for the U.S.S.R. Although Hemon's satiric vision of the U.S. in "Blind Jozef" (a shorter version was published in the New Yorker) is less fresh than that of his Titoist childhood, its portrait of a Bosnian writer marking time in a grungy, postmodern Chicago is wryly uncompromising. Generously endowed with pathos, humor and irony, and written in an off-balance, intoxicating English, this collection announces a talent reminiscent of the young Josef Skvorecky. Agent, Nicole Aragi at Watkins/Loomis. Major ad/promo; author tour. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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See all 24 customer reviews
Hemon is a fantastic writer.
This book of short stories is incredibly good--well written and gripping.
now what
You should read "The Question of Bruno" because it's good.
peter wild

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By speakman on May 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Reader on August 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By "botatoe" on April 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
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.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By blah on June 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A collection of vivid episodes that come forth so fresh, and with such bracing clarity, that it elevates the exercise of reading to something else--a great understanding, maybe. No one is writing like Hemon. I can't think of another writer who sends his dispatches with such orginality--except for Denis Johnson.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By peter wild on November 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
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.
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