lazarusprojectBY ERIC MARKOWSKY

Author: Aleksandar Hemon

Riverhead, 2008

Best eBook Deal: Powell’s

If you’ve heard anything about The Question of Bruno, Hemon’s stunning debut story collection, then you know that he has the reputation of a linguistic genius (with a MacArthur “genius grant” to show for it).  The Lazarus Project builds on that reputation and then some.  The prose is so compelling, at times devastatingly funny and charming, at others just devastating, that the book moves like a light read despite its heavy themes, displacement, political upheaval and oppression, the mysteries of other minds.  The novel combines Hemon’s linguistic gifts with a well-balanced structure that makes it doubly difficult to put down.

The dual-narrative follows Vladimir Brik, a Bosnian American columnist and troubled husband to an American woman, on a trip to Ukraine to research Lazarus Averbuch, the victim of a 1908 Chicago police slaying.  Part travelogue, part hard-boiled history, The Lazarus Project splices Brik’s journey with his telling of the Averbuch murder seamlessly.  I never felt jarred by the transitions, and each of the novel’s main threads managed to hold my interest in its own right.  I never found myself slogging through one just to get back to the other.  The xenophobia of turn of the century Chicago offers obvious parallels to the American political climate since 9/11, and as the separate narratives progress they effortlessly echo each other, thematically and linguistically.  Brik’s trip proves politically personal and personally dire as he moves across Eastern Europe, farther from his new home and closer to his homeland.

In the end, the book’s only downfall is its failure to solve a problem that undoes many dual-narratives: how to bring two stories to one satisfying conclusion.  As it is, both strands here seem to run down rather than wrap up, one beautifully, the other a little randomly.  In this case it’s certainly no fatal flaw, and I would still recommend The Lazarus Project very highly to anyone who likes books that make you miss your bus stop.  After reading the somewhat disappointing endings, certain of the novel’s refrains will linger in your mind for a good long time, and maybe have you thinking that this might be a book worth rereading.

Other books to read: The Question of Bruno (Hemon), City of Thieves (Benioff), The Emigrants (Sebald)