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Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project

Every now and then I come across a book that defies description, one whose beauty and power I can't adequately convey in mere words. James Meek's The People's Act of Love is one such book, and another is Ander Monson's Other Electricities, as is - despite its considerable artistic deficiencies - John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

And now, also, Aleksandar Hemon's new novel, The Lazarus Project. Not that it can't be described, of course. Many critics and commentators will describe, at length and in depth, the book's narrative, structure and themes, along with the author's background and what his past brought to the telling of the story. Though I'll leave most of that discussion to them, I will still attempt a few words on this great book's behalf.

Through the shadowy and tragic real-life figure of Lazarus Avenbuch and Vladimir Brik, the fictional modern-day writer obsessed with uncovering Lazarus' century-old story, Hemon has crafted a courageous novel, one full of hope and longing and anger and isolation, one which explores the past while being vitally relevant to the present. Hemon's Lazarus does indeed rise - not from the dead like his Biblical namesake, but from the fog of forgotten history. He rises, and compels Brik to find out who he is, where he belongs, and what he wants out of life. As the story concludes, Brik hasn't figured any of that out, but he does see the negative of each - who he isn't, where he doesn't belong, and what he doesn't want out of life - in his present situation, which leads him to seek alternatives.

Yet despite these insights, Lazarus is a book whose greatness I can't adequately describe. For me it's one of those magnificent works of art, like the other books mentioned above or a Morphine song or Emil Nolde watercolor, that I simply can't do justice in words. All I can do is urge you to read and experience the book for yourself, as soon as you can.

May 15, 2008 in Books | Permalink