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Nowhere Man (Vintage International) by [Hemon, Aleksandar]
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Nowhere Man (Vintage International) Kindle Edition

3.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Following his critically acclaimed short story collection, The Question of Bruno, Aleksandar Hemon's debut novel Nowhere Man confirms that an important new voice has arrived. Unlike other Eastern European coming-of-age novels, Nowhere Man bucks chronological order, spanning the 1990s and sometimes reading like a memoir. Jozef Pronek, who grew up dreaming of hitting it big with his Beatles cover band, wanders through his adopted Chicago while the Bosnia conflict rages on, working as a process server and for Greenpeace, where he meets his girlfriend, Rachel. Jozef spends time in Kiev with American graduate students, such as the uncannily depicted Will, "blonde and suburbanly ... [as if his] family procreated by fission," and Vivian, "pale and in need of a carrot or something." He rooms with Victor Plavchuk, a conflicted doctoral student in literature who develops a crush on Jozef (and who is reminiscent of a subdued Charles Kinbote from Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire). Jozef is sublimely complex, embodying the listlessness and frank practicality of expatriates whose homeland is being shredded by violent conflict. Jozef wonders, "Why couldn't he be more than one person? Why was he stuck in the middle of himself, hungry and tired?" while a woman "[keeps] her hands in the pockets of her formerly blue jacket, as if despair were a marble in her pocket." Hemon's wit is also present: "The only thing that distinguished Pronek in school was that he never, ever volunteered to do anything." Nowhere Man is a somber, saddening, yet vibrant and warm debut novel. --Michael Ferch

From Publishers Weekly

Jozef Pronek, the quirky Sarajevan who captured the imagination of readers in Hemon's acclaimed story collection (The Question of Bruno), gets full-length treatment in this acutely self-aware and tender first novel. Hemon plunges into the inner world of the observant Pronek, making ordinary events seem extraordinary through the sheer power of his detailed descriptions as his protagonist navigates the war-torn land that was once Marshal Tito's Yugoslavia and the wilds of Chicago in the 1990s. Death is a constant companion for Pronek, as is a mysterious man who shadows him wherever he goes, and their lockstep journey is at the heart of a book that wanders back and forth through time and space. Hemon is stingingly accurate in his portrayal of the small, pivotal moments of youth: Pronek resorting to sliced onions to make himself cry at his grandmother's funeral, his first bungling effort at sex, his noisy rock band and his humiliating stint as a soldier. When Pronek goes to Kiev to visit his grandfather, Hemon effectively spells out his need to make sense of his life and his frustrated nationalism, his love for a country that seems to no longer love itself. The weight of such reflections are counterbalanced by zany scenes like Pronek's encounter with President G.H.W. Bush at a ceremony on the site of the Babi Yar massacre. As a "nowhere man," Pronek travels to Chicago, where he is out of step with the alienated youth culture, a person with a dubious identity and past that is not fully explained until the final chapter. Pronek's constantly reconfiguring life makes the novel a wild, twisty read, and Hemon's inimitable voice and the wry urgency of his storytelling should cement his reputation as a talented young writer.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 602 KB
  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (December 23, 2009)
  • Publication Date: December 23, 2009
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000QCS90K
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #713,074 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on September 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Jozef Pronek, as a teenager in Sarajevo, loves the Beatles, and, not surprisingly, forms a band with other young people, all of whom, like Jozef, have dreams but no prospects, their favorite song being "Nowhere Man." Later, almost by accident, Jozef finds himself living in Chicago, thousands of miles from the Balkan war which is destroying his country, still without prospects. As he and several named and unnamed narrators relate episodes from Jozef's unfocused life throughout the 1990's, the story jumps from Chicago to Sarajevo to Kiev and Shanghai, following no sequential order, and always returning to the controlling idea that "There was a hole in the world, and I fit right into it; if I perished, the hole would just close, like a scar healing..."

Hemon, a Sarajevo native who didn't begin writing in English until 1995, achieves immense power by keeping his sentence structure simple, acutely observing the minutiae of Jozef's life, meticulously selecting images which are both visually and emotionally memorable, then firing them at us in a staccato series of flashes. Just before a job interview, for example, Jozef recalls smashing cardboard boxes, a cat eating the head of a mouse, the Bosnian war as seen on TV, and a passing driver pointing a finger at him and pretending to shoot. Boiling eggs are seen as "iris-less eyes," and he has "butterflies in [his] stomach, ripping off one another's wings." With irony and dark humor, he recalls a woman calling out to her lost dog, "Lucky Boy," while a young ESL teacher addresses her class as "you guys" and conducts lessons about Siamese twins.

Jozef is a character with whom most readers will empathize, and as we view his life at home and abroad, we root for his success at the same time that we fear his failure.
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Format: Paperback
Yes, Nowhere Man is seriously flawed. As other reviewers have noted, it is indeed poorly edited, often confusing, and its naive, self-conscious attempt to be literary and postmodern caused me to wince with discomfort. His over-use of similes was maddening, etc.

However, this novel is so replete with brilliant observations ("crackling with acuity"), expressed in stunningly novel and creative ways that I found it compulsively readable; in fact, for pure pleasure, this is the best read I've experienced in years. If I were a collector of literary 1st editions, I would be buying up Hemon's oeuvre, for his works--despite their deficiencies--are destined to be among the few that survive our times.
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By A Customer on December 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Aleksandar Hemon writes in marvelous ways about a world that most writers seem not to notice -- the real world, or at least the world I live in. Hemon's real world is an urban world full of genuinely human people and tangible history. Hemon's first book took place in this world, too, and I love him for it, but Nowhere Man is a much more sophisticated, textured, and affecting book than The Question of Bruno, and it establishes that Hemon is more than up to the writer's great challenge: to create a character that will live on and on, like Bellow's Augie March, Nabokov's Humbert Humbert, Chandler's Marlowe, etc. And Jozef Pronek will live on as one of the great literary protagonists of the 21st century, but he will not live on as a flat icon, but as a seemingly real person, who I've already known as a child, as a student, as a detective, as a wage-slave, as a lover.
Sometimes in The Question of Bruno, maybe Hemon was showing off a little, to dazzling effect but more for the sake of doing it than for the sake of the book itself. That doesn't happen in Nowhere Man, probably because it's all about the lovable Pronek, in the way that Catcher in the Rye is all about keeping you involved with Holden Caulfield. That's a strange comparison and probably wildly inaccurate -- Pronek doesn't feel like a kid at all (he's too world-wise and weary for his own good), and it's so absurd to describe this book as a coming-of-age story it didn't even occur to me until right now (a more accurate comparison might be to Toru Okada of Haruki Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, who's supposedly all grown-up by the time we meet him) -- but in some ways I felt about Pronek the way I felt about Caulfield.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The writers of the old old New Europe, between The Danube and the Dardenelles, all seem to share a gift for mordant nostalgia expressed in akilter cadences and quirky metaphors. Bohumil Hrabal, Danilo Kos, Ivo Andric -- writers in Czech, Serbian, whatever pan-Slavic language -- give us their whacky insights in sentences that translate into oddly similar English. With Aleksandr Hemon, a Bosnian immigrant/refugee, we get the same wry sensibilities without translation. Hemon writes in an English that is both perfectly fluent and piquantly foreign:

"There was a bench nobody was sitting on, encrusted with blotches. I looked up, and on a steel beam high up above perched a jury of pigeons, cooing peevishly. They bloated and deflated, blinking down on us, effortlessly releasing feces. When I was a kid, I thought that snow came from God sh_tt_ing upon us. The Touhy bus arrived, and we lined up at the bus door. I experienced an intense sneeze of happiness, simply because I had managed not to lose my transfer."

Hemon, like the other writers named above, writes very funny prose to tell very sad stories of displacement and loss. In "Nowhere Man", one of his narrators tells about learning songs to sing a late night student parties, in hopes of creating a mood for seductions. The songs are all about "`sevdah' -- a feeling of pleasant soul pain, when you are at peace with your woeful life, which allows you to enjoy this very moment with abandon." Other cultures and other languages have a similar word -- saudade in Portuguese, for instance -- but no other literature is so permeated with "sevdah" as that of the former Eastern European socialist satellites.
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