the guardian Fri 28 August 2009
Chicago, 1908: Lazarus Averbuch, a young Ukrainian Jew fleeing a pogrom in his homeland, is shot dead while delivering a letter to the chief of police. A century later, Vladimir Brik, Bosnian émigré in the same city, attempts to resurrect the truth behind the assassination and (perhaps) recreate himself as an author in the process. Brik's research takes him back to eastern Europe, a wasted landscape of desecrated graves, Moldovan whorehouses, and the shiny gangster warlords of the new Sarajevo. Hemon is currently touted as the new Nabokov (or Conrad), and his work in English carries a heavy burden of critical expectation. This latest novel took some brickbats for its supposedly unresolved structure: initially distinct, the two narratives bleed together towards the end. But isn't that the point? Hemon's sentences "spill into each other" just as irrepressibly as mourning seeps into any attempt to project the self. Besides, there is some terrific writing here: "gun smoke moving slowly across the room, like a school of fish" is treasurable.