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The Lazarus Project Paperback – May 5, 2009
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The story explores the murder and its aftermath, centering on Averbuch's burial. The novel further describes how Averbuch was a victim of an infamous 1903 Pogrom and came to the United States where has dreams of freedom and a new life were dashed. Averbuch's murder occurs at the outset of the novel. Thus the focus of the story is on his older sister Olga who is inconsolable upon her brother's death. As her story develops, it bears resemblances to Sophocles' play Antigone. Olga grieves because her brother has not been buried with the rites and rituals of Jewish law. As in Sopocles' play, Olga faces tension between the requirements of a religious burial and what she comes to realize she must do in order to live and find a modicum of peace. She is pitted against not only the City of Chicago but also by the more established and settled elements of the Chicago Jewish community. The characters of Olga and Lazarus are poignantly developed. In addition, the story shows a great deal of Lazarus' and Olga's friend Isadore and of Olga's efforts to protect him from the Chicago police.
The portrayal in the book is of a Chicago which is rough and tumble and corrupt. Growing and welcoming of immigrants, the city also fears them. In particular, the city and many people fear the anarchist movement led by Emma Goldman. The story develops against the background of this paranoia. The immigrant experience does not end well here for Lazarus and his sister.
The second story involves a contemporary Bosnian immigrant, Vladimir Brik. He came to Chicago just prior to the Bosnian war. He lives a rather footlose life, selling stories and articles to newspapers and teaching English as a second language. He is married to an American neurosurgeon, Mary, and feels guilty that he depends on Mary for financial support. The book makes a great deal of the tension in this marriage between a marginally employed immigrant and a highly educated, successful American. Brik becomes interested in the story of Lazarus Averbuch and wants to write a novel about him. He learns all he can find about the incident and then secures a grant to travel to his former home, Bosnia, and to Lazarus' home to see what he can learn about Lazarus' early life. He travels with an old friend from Bosnia. a photographer named Rora, who immigrated to the United States after Lazarus did and who had substantial involvement in the events of the war.
The reader learns to story of Lazarus through the eyes and research of Brik. The book also shows a great deal of Brik's own story, including his feelings of loneliness, the difficulties of his life in the United States, and the problems in his relationship with his wife. The book explores Bosnia in the aftermath of the war, and makes a great deal of Brik's reflections upon and changing attitudes towards the land of his birth.
In the portions of this book that deal with Lazarus Averbuch and his sister, Hemon has captured a great deal of the rawness of early Chicago and of the eastern Europe ghetto from which Averbuch fled. The narrator's story generally is well told but less convincing. Much of the book explores the different attitudes towards life between Brik and Rora. The photographer tends to be taciturn and matter of fact. Yet he is full of stories and snappy one-lines. The narrator is a more complex, reflective, moody individual. The stories of Rora's activities during the Bosnian War are muddled, probably deliberately so.
As the stories develop, a great deal of parallelism develops between Brik and Lazarus in terms their reasons for leaving the land of their birth and their reactions to the United States. Possibly the parallels are too neatly done. I came to understand and sympathize with Lazarus far more than with Brik. The parallelism and interrelationship of the two stories sometimes is distracting. And the story is weakened in many places by the vacuous "metaphysical" reflections of the narrator, on large questions of life, death, and the nature of human happiness. For the most part novels succeed on these themes when they illustrate them in the characters and activities of their protagonists. At its best, Hemon's book does this. On occasion, the philosophizing was empty and forced.
On the whole, this is a good novel which captures life in a large, ungovernable early 20th Century American city. It shows the perils of immigrant life and the tragedies that befell some people who came to our shores in search of freedom. Readers interested in the vast literature by American immigrants may enjoy the recent anthology "Becoming Americans" Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing edited by Ilan Slavans in the Library of America.
This book may seem challenging at first because it intertwines two stories: a historical event, which is the death of a Jewish pogrom refugee called Lazarus who was accidently shot by a police officer in Chicago at the beginning of the century, and a road trip through Central-Eastern Europe towards his native Bosnia by a Bosnian-Ukranian-American writer called Brik, who lives in contemporary Chicago and is writing a book about Lazarus.
One of the main themes is the sense of loss or split identity experienced by an immigrant from a war zone propelled into a rich country like the US. It could seem at first easier to relate to Lazarus as a victim of racial discrimination and economic exploitation in his native country and later in his adoption country, than to Brick, a very self-centered writer, who was not directly a war victim and enjoys an apparently good life with a smart, well-meaning US wife and enough money to sponsor his writing. But the beauty of this book is that it does not make either one of these two intertwined lifes a black and white story. The characters are rich and complex. We can relate to their pain as well as to their failings. Side characters like Lazarus' sister and Brik's travel companion, the photographer Rora, are also very moving.
Last but not least, the book's language is amazing. Descriptions are very vivid. The scenes taking place at different times (beginning of this century, Bosnian war, post-war) and locations (US, Europe) really come to life. The dialogues, in particular, those between Brik and Rora, are very witty.
NOTE: the book contains photos which are completely lost on the Kindle edition. This might be a case for buying the paper edition.
Most recent customer reviews
A pointless, rambling "buddy road trip" novel whose worst offense is boredom, followed closely by unlikable characters and...Read more