A book of personal essays from the author of The Lazarus Project. At the age of twenty-seven, Hemon journeyed from Sarajevo to Chicago―a trip that would mark the beginning of another life, this time in the United States. There, he watched from afar as war broke out in Bosnia, his parents and sister fleeing, and Hemon himself unable to return.
... a collection of thorned, blood-red roses that make beauty out of [Hemon's] broken past ... The final essay — concerning his daughter's brain tumor and the many operations and transfusions that led up to her death — is the most compelling. In fact, it's one of the most moving pieces I have ever read. What could have been dangerously sentimental is instead a brutal meditation on life and suffering. I usually think of myself as emotionally shielded. I rarely allow myself to cry, but this essay slashed through my defenses. I chafed my eyes roughing away so many tears ... You should read Aleksandar Hemon's memoir for the same reason you should read his fiction: He is not only a remarkably talented writer but also one of the great social observers, a cultural anthropologist who seems at home everywhere and nowhere and who balances despair with hope, anger with humor.
Such is Aleksandar Hemon's bountiful gift for language that the Bosnian-American writer has drawn comparison with Nabokov, that genius of word selection ... it's a sensibility – at once mordant and exuberant, comic and subtle – that Hemon traces to a distinctive Slavic outlook ... a thoughtfully humorous and profoundly sad memoir-cum-collection of essays ... Hemon does with Sarajevo what Orhan Pamuk has done for Istanbul, which is to say he brings to life a city in ways that have little to do with its received image ... [Hemon's] beautifully assembled vignettes are often digressive but they invariably come back to a particular point and it's usually not the point that you were expecting. Because Hemon, who witnessed the wilful ruination of his famously civilised hometown, knows that life doesn't proceed in straight narrative lines ... a writer who knows how to make words succeed in the most unpromising places.
... elicits admiration and joy ... Am I churlish or unreasonable to say The Aquarium is one of the weakest pieces, that it pales in comparison to a book of sharper and more controlled essays, all loaded with heavy and significant, but also wry and rich, allusions? They feature distance and intelligence about old times made new with the keenest of lenses. We’ve all seen horror. Maybe Hemon’s seen more, but what makes him special is that he often knows how to make it mean something. And for the most part, he’s allowed himself the time to let raw emotions mellow into something stronger ... Whatever happens next, to any of us, I trust Hemon will continue seeking the right words, watching and waiting, and will remain among the most insightful voices of our time.