Raising the Dead

photoHungry for some good fiction, I relied on some colleagues for some recommendations. That lead me to reading Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project, a novel steeped in several important stories all intertwined.

The protagonist, Vladimir Brik, is a Bosnian expatriate living in the United States. He left Yugoslavia before war broke out. He wants to write about Lazarus Averbauch, a Jewish immigrant who was murdered in Chicago in the early 1900s. A grant comes through that allows him and a friend (Rora) to travel through Eastern Europe and research Lazarus’ life before he crossed the ocean.

The novel is organized with alternating chapters between the aftermath of Lazarus’ death in Chicago and Brik’s journey in Europe with Rora, a photographer who lived through the war in Yugoslavia. Sporadically, Rora offers humorous anecdotes and solemn stories about living through the war.

There’s an obvious theme in the novel about rising from the dead; Lazarus is a famous name from the Bible for exactly that miracle, and in several stories, people are smuggled out of a country by pretending to be dead. Brik harangues on the idea of death consistently throughout the novel. While his metaphysical questions can be quite intriguing, at times I felt like I was just listening to a grown man whine. It is interesting that there isn’t any mention of the protagonist’s parents or whatever happened to them.

To be honest, this was one of those novels that I worried I wouldn’t really care for. But I stuck with it, and I found myself get riveted to both plots. Hemon is a brilliant writer with a penchant for crafting eloquent prose that makes me think!