An acclaimed novelist—winner of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant and finalist for the National Book Award (The Lazarus Project, 2008, etc.)—returns with an affecting memoir about his youth in Sarajevo and his escape and adjustment to the West.
Hemon begins with the birth of his baby sister. He evokes his boyhood jealousy and confusion with honesty and clarity, recalling how he once nearly murdered the infant. When war in the Balkans erupted (once again) in the 1990s, his family eventually fled. His father went to Canada with his wife and the author’s sister in 1993; Hemon had been eking out a living as a journalist in Sarajevo, a city he loved. He maintains an appealing, self-deprecating voice throughout these early chapters, readily recognizing his own delusions and youthful arrogance. He got a chance to visit Chicago for a month in 1992 and didn’t return. The second half of the memoir charts his early struggles in the city and his passions for soccer and chess, passions he was able to release once he found like-minded groups of others. Always a voracious reader (and aficionado of American popular culture), Hemon learned English, taught ESL for a while, then began writing in English, as well. He writes forthrightly about the failure of his first marriage: Something so right, he thought, quickly declined into something bad (shouting matches). But later he met and fell in love with his current wife, who, at the time, was editing a collection to which he was contributing. Hemon’s technique is not conventional—this is no linear boyhood-to-manhood narrative. The chapters, in fact, could in many ways stand alone. But their cumulative emotional power—accelerated by a wrenching final section about the grievous illness of his younger daughter—eventually all but overwhelms.
Amuses, informs and inspires—then, finally, rips open the heart.