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Love and Obstacles Hardcover – May 14, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bosnian-born Hemon (The Lazarus Project) again beautifully twists the language in this collection of eight powerful and disquieting stories. The 1992 Bosnian war colors in the background of all the tales, whose settings range from Africa to Chicago and Sarajevo. Arranged chronologically, all but one feature a Hemon-like narrator named Bogdan, first met as a surly teenager during his diplomat father's assignment in Zaire, where he's happily corrupted by a degenerate American espionage agent. In each successive story, Bogdan recalls the surreal and salient experiences of his life: his youth with his ironically depicted family; his early determination to be a poet; his accidental sojourn in America, where he was caught after the commencement of hostilities in Bosnia; and his return to a cesspool of insignificant, drizzly suffering, where he has a transformative night interviewing a Pulitzer Prize–winning writer. Hemon arranges words like gems in a necklace. A necktie is stretched across the chair seat, like a severed tendon; a car is stickered with someone else's thought; a character's teeth are like organ pipes. Writing with steely control and an antic eye, Hemon has assembled another extraordinary work. (May)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

"Steeped ... in male ego [and] sexuality" (Houston Chronicle), Hemon's wry, robust, and entertaining stories bring to light the immigrant's hunger for identity -- caught between two worlds but truly belonging to neither -- and the writer's hunger for validation. Poised between two worlds himself, Hemon's vantage point and marvelous flair for the English language yield deliciously sardonic cultural observations and ask insightful questions about the meaning of family and home. Critics were especially moved by his portrait of his eccentric father and the growing chasm between father and son. Though the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel considered Hemon's subject matter trite and uninspired, most critics, in spite of a few complaints -- including some awkward language, a sporadic anti-American undercurrent, and forced connections among stories -- were pleased by Hemon's return to familiar terrain.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 209 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (May 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594488649
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488641
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,517,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By G. Bestick VINE VOICE on July 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
These quasi-autobiographical linked stories yield complicated pleasures. Love and Obstacles is a portrait of the artist (Hemon, using the alias Bogdan) as a young man, migrating, as Hemon did, from Bosnia to Chicago, from poetry to prose, from obscurity to acclaim.

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.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Help Wanted: New Narrator

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.

IMAGERY

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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 American idioms or slang. I keep trying to figure out how he can be so comfortable in his second language since he spent his childhood years and his early adulthood in Sarjevo. Succinctly put, he writes better in English than most native American authors do.

This volume, "Love And Obstacles", details his life and could be non-fiction. It has that feeling tone. I loved, in particular, the short story "American Commando". I really could imagine the author as a pre-teen semi-deliquent in Sarajevo.

Americans only wish that we could bottle the skill Hemon has in linguistics and feed it to our kids.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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 insight they offer. These are some of the most eloquently written American short stories of the 21st Century ... And for once stories that are about much more than the typical concerns of domestic realism. The prose is lucid, the insights into human beings and history complex.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the first time I've read Hemon. His writing has an energy that is missing in much literary writing. Maybe this is because he has something interesting to say. The book was hilarious in many parts and was of particular delight to me because of my slavic background which meant I could relate to many parts and characters of the book. Some of his sentences made me gasp with shock at the accuracy, wisdom and beauty. This for me is rare in a lot of contemporary writing. One negative was that I felt his characters were not always drawn with sufficient detail but maybe this is only something one finds in a novel rather than a collection of short stories.
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