Bookish: The Lazarus Project

Before I went on holidays I finished this Aleksander Hemon novel and was charged to discover that this novel (released last year) lives up to the promise of Hemon’s short fiction. Unlike Nowhere Man, his first “novel”, The Lazarus Project holds throughout with a double narrative, strong characters and an intact storyline that carry the reader through the travels and struggles of two immigrants to America one hundred years apart.

The Lazarus Project is both the story of Lazarus Averbuch, a Jewish Immigrant shot dead Chicago’s police chief in 1908 and of Vladamir Brik, a Bosnian-American writer who becomes interested in Lazarus, following his path in reverse through the novel from Chicago to the Ukraine, Molodova, Romania and Bosnia with the aid of his fantastical friend and photographer Ahmed Rora. The two stories, though taking separate chapters in the beginning of the book, begin to bleed through into each other by the end, provoking comparisons between the two main figures despite their divergent lives. Averbuch, a man chased by pogroms to America works on his English, goes to political meetings and sketches out ideas for a novel. Brik, having left his home country on a writing gig and been blocked from re-entry due to war, works as an immigrant columnist while living principally on his surgeon wife’s income. Two men no longer able to live in their country of birth, searching for something to dignify them in the great land of freedom. And of course, that’s not so easy (many would say impossible) to discover.

The story of Averbuch is very much true, the mystery of what happened to him on police chief Shippy’s doorstep that March morning has never been solved, though the racial tensions caused by the shooting were well documented in newspapers of the time. Hemon does a thorough job of imagining the conversations, smells, thoughts, and conditions that Averbuch lives in, as much as he is able to bring life to the journey of Brik and Rora through Eastern Europe to their devastating conclusion. Each story informing the other, layering on much thought and beauty in the process. A pleasure to read, The Lazarus Project gets a place on my shelf and a definite recommendation.

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