A profoundly moving novel that finds striking parallels between the America of a hundred years ago and now, as an immigrant Bosnian author, straining to come to terms with his identity, returns to his troubled homeland.
The second novel by Hemon (Nowhere Man, 2002) begins in the Chicago of 1908, when a 19-year-old Jewish refugee named Lazarus Averbuch undertakes a mysterious mission to deliver a letter to the city’s chief of police. He has made the trek from his impoverished ghetto home to one of the city’s richest neighborhoods and is plainly out of his element. When he attempts to deliver the letter, the chief shoots him, fearing that the stranger is an armed anarchist. A reporter who serves as a mouthpiece for the police spreads the word that the murdered immigrant was actually a murderer, killed in an attempt to assassinate the chief. A hundred years later, the incident piques the interest of Vladimir Brik, a struggling writer whose column for the city’s alternative weekly has given him a readership but not much of a career, and who relies on the financial support of his wife, an American brain surgeon. Occasionally mistaken for being either Jewish or Muslim—though he is neither—Brik sees the demonizing of Lazarus in a contemporary light: “The war against anarchism was much like the current war on terror—funny how old habits never die.” Chapters alternate between Brik’s account of the events of 1908 and his current research into the truth about Lazarus, a mission that takes him back to Eastern Europe on an extended journey, accompanied by an amoral former war photographer named Rora. Yet as the novel progresses, it seems that Brik is more concerned with finding the truth about himself—Who am I? Where is home?—than he is with the perhaps impossible task of learning what really happened with Lazarus.
A literary page-turner that combines narrative momentum with meditations on identity and mortality.