Aleksander Hemon | Lit Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Aleksander Hemon

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Much has been made of Aleksandar Hemon's remarkable facility with the English language--which he was forced to learn just 12 years ago, after landing in Chicago as an accidental refugee of the war in Bosnia. And his 2002 novel, Nowhere Man, now out in a Vintage paperback edition, is full of the sort of inventive wordplay that got him compared to Nabokov after his 2000 story collection, The Question of Bruno. But he's not just grandstanding: Hemon's absurd, assured turns of phrase illuminate a protagonist (Jozef Pronek, also the subject of the quasi-autobiographical novella in Bruno) who is himself scratching about for the words to articulate his acute sense of loss and displacement. Pronek stumbles through the end of the 20th century, playing Beatles covers in Sarajevo, meeting George H.W. Bush in Kiev, and canvassing for Greenpeace in Chicago. Upon consummating his lust for a fellow Greenpeace worker, Hemon writes, "Pronek lay facedown on the floor, his heart beating so hard he imagined it trying to dig its way out with its little paws." Less a narrative than a series of related episodes, told by multiple third parties and capped by one penultimate flight of fancy, Nowhere Man conveys the frustration of perpetually chasing one's identity through twists of fate and history. In one chapter Pronek, now working for a private eye in Chicago, has to serve papers to a dangerously unbalanced Serb. "Are you a Serb or a Muslim?" asks his employer before sending him in. "I am complicated," Pronek replies. "You can say I am the Bosnian." Hemon reads at 7 PM on Tuesday, February 3, at 57th Street Books, 1301 E. 57th, 773-684-1300; and at 7:30 PM on Thursday, February 5, at Barbara's Bookstore, 1350 N. Wells, 312-642-5044. At 5:30 PM on February 10, he'll be at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State, 312-747-4080.

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