Aleksandar Hemon's third novel, The Lazarus Project, 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 Lazarus Project, the masterful new novel from the Bosnian-American writer Aleksandar Hemon, opens with a passage that recalls the invocations of epic poetry...Alternating chapters give us the story of Lazarus's killing (the story Brik is writing) and the story of Brik's own journey in search of Lazarus. Then, as the novel progresses, these narratives begin, eerily, to merge. Characters from Brik's life — or versions of them — show up in Lazarus's story ...Hemon is as much a writer of the senses as of the intellect. He can be very funny: The novel is full of jokes and linguistic riffs that justify comparisons to Nabokov. And though the prose occasionally lapses into turgidity...he seems determined not to let his readers (particularly his American readers) escape the experience of war as a personal affront and a personal transformation.
Together with Rora, a fellow Bosnian and photographer, Brik sets out on a trip to Eastern Europe in search of Lazarus' past. They begin with the town in Russia where Lazarus was born and journey on, tracing the history of this pogrom victim and political refugee, interviewing people, but often simply imagining the past ... In his second novel, The Lazarus Project, MacArthur 'genius grant' winner Aleksandar Hemon (Nowhere Man) has undertaken the challenge of interweaving two narratives, one factual, another fictional. With the Lazarus story line, which is believed to closely follow actual historical events, he's done a convincing job ... On the other hand, the fictional Brik story line tends to meander, crammed with idle conversations, odd encounters and digressions into hazy memories of the past. Hemon, however, delivers a startling finish with a poignant twist ...he never writes a boring sentence.
Aleksandar Hemon's The Lazarus Project is one of several recent books that orbit these subjects. Its sentiments are all very correct and laudable, but as a novel it seems to me largely a failure. It opts, initially, for the oblique angle... Period reconstruction clearly isn't Hemon's game... What seem to interest him more are the various practical and metaphysical questions raised by his own desire to tell the story. The result is a familiar postmodern construction: a novel about the writing of a novel ...Lacking the pressure of a plot, these passages stake everything on their pure interest as writing ... Tired observations, lame jokes, bits of generic travelogue about smelly buses and scary taxi-rides form the bulk of these sections ... Towards the end The Lazarus Project seems to realise it's running on empty.