The Lazarus Project

The Lazarus Project

3.3 23
by Aleksandar Hemon

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"On March 2, 1908, nineteen-year-old Lazarus Averbuch, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe to Chicago, knocked on the front door of the home of George Shippy, the Chicago chief of police. When Shippy came to the door, Lazarus offered him what he said was an important letter. Instead of taking the letter, Shippy shot Lazarus twice, killing him. Shippy released a… See more details below


"On March 2, 1908, nineteen-year-old Lazarus Averbuch, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe to Chicago, knocked on the front door of the home of George Shippy, the Chicago chief of police. When Shippy came to the door, Lazarus offered him what he said was an important letter. Instead of taking the letter, Shippy shot Lazarus twice, killing him. Shippy released a statement casting Lazarus as a would-be anarchist assassin and agent of foreign political operatives, leaving Lazarus's sister, Olga, bereaved and stranded at the center of a city and a country simmering with ethnic and political tensions." Now, in the twenty-first century, a young writer in Chicago, Brik, also from Eastern Europe, becomes obsessed with Lazarus's story - what really happened, and why? In order to understand Lazarus Averbuch, Brik and his friend Rora - who overflows with stories of his life as a Sarajevo war photographer - retrace Lazarus's path backward across Eastern Europe, through a history of pogroms and poverty, and through a present day of cheap mafiosi and cheaper prostitutes. The stories of Lazarus and Brik become inextricably entwined, augmented by the photographs that Rora takes on their journey, creating a truly original, provocative, and entertaining novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
[With The Question of Bruno] Hemon proved himself as inventive as Nabokov or Salman Rushdie. He seemed, in other words, to possess the kind of bold talent that doesn't come around very often. And in his follow-up book, Hemon again displays his prodigious gifts—nearly every sentence of this novel is infused with energy and wit. . . . A true original.
Now here's a reason to get excited: a true work of art that's as vast and mysterious as life itself. This tender, devastating book is evidence indeed that Hemon is a writer of rare artistry and dept.
New York Times
An extraordinary writer: one who seems not simply gifted but necessary.
David Leavitt
The masterful new novel from the Bosnian-American writer Aleksandar Hemon, opens with a passage that recalls the invocations of epic poetry…Which muses Hemon invoked in writing this troubling, funny and redemptive novel are not named, though one supposes that Clio, the muse of history, must have had some involvement, as well as Melpomene, the muse of tragedy. If there were muses of "stolen cars and sadness"—his country's "main exports," according to Hemon—they would no doubt have played a role as well…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…these overwrought moments are more than made up for by the many gorgeous ones.
—The Washington Post
Cathleen Schine
Some writers turn despair into humor as a way of making the world bearable, of discovering some glimmer of beauty or pleasure or, most important, humanity. In contrast, the gifted Bosnian writer Aleksandar Hemon has taken the formal structure of humor, the grammar of comedy, the rhythms and beats of a joke, and used them to reveal despair. His new novel, The Lazarus Project, is a remarkable, and remarkably entertaining, chronicle of loss and hopelessness and cruelty propelled by an eloquent, irritable existential unease. It is, against all odds, full of humor and full of jokes. It is, at the same time, inexpressibly sad.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

MacArthur genius Hemon in his third book (after Nowhere Man) intelligently unpacks 100 years' worth of immigrant disillusion, displacement and desperation. As fears of the anarchist movement roil 1908 Chicago, the chief of police guns down Lazarus Averbuch, an eastern European immigrant Jew who showed up at the chief's doorstep to deliver a note. Almost a century later, Bosnian-American writer Vladimir Brik secures a coveted grant and begins working on a book about Lazarus; his research takes him and fellow Bosnian Rora, a fast-talking photographer whose photos appear throughout the novel, on a twisted tour of eastern Europe (there are brothel-hotels, bouts of violence, gallons of coffee and many fabulist stories from Rora) that ends up being more a journey into their own pasts than a fact-finding mission. Sharing equal narrative duty is the story of Olga Averbuch, Lazarus's sister, who, hounded by the police and the press (the Tribunereporter is especially vile), is faced with another shock: the disappearance of her brother's body from his potter's grave. (His name, after all, was Lazarus.) Hemon's workmanlike prose underscores his piercing wit, and between the murders that bookend the novel, there's pathos and outrage enough to chip away at even the hardest of hearts. (May)

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Library Journal

After two short story collections (The Question of Bruno; Nowhere Man), MacArthur Award recipient Hemon brings us a novel worth reading with as much fire as its composition must have demanded. The New York Timesrightfully calls Hemon "not simply gifted but necessary." Reading Hemon's image-viscous prose is like anxiously wading through dark emotion. It's the story of Brik, who fled to Chicago from Sarajevo during war, married a neurosurgeon, and became a writer. Obsessed with the story of Lazarus Averbuch-an Eastern European immigrant who was murdered in 1908 in Chicago, five years after escaping the pogroms-Brik returns with photographer friend Rora to Eastern Europe to immerse himself in his and Lazarus's old lives. Through Rora's stories of wartime Sarajevo and glimpses of Brik's life, we understand their outsider anguish in America. Also, through flashbacks of Lazarus's death, Hemon reveals the other mystery. This story could be compared with Jonathan Safran-Foer's Everything Is Illuminatedin that it's one character's Eastern European search for enlightenment. Highly recommended for all public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/08.]
—Stephen Morrow

Kirkus Reviews
A profoundly moving novel that 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 second novel by Hemon (Nowhere Man, 2002) begins in the Chicago of 1908, when a 19-year-old Jewish refugee named Lazarus Averbuch undertakes a mysterious mission to deliver a letter to the city's chief of police. He has made the trek from his impoverished ghetto home to one of the city's richest neighborhoods and is plainly out of his element. When he attempts to deliver the letter, the chief shoots him, fearing that the stranger is an armed anarchist. A reporter who serves as a mouthpiece for the police spreads the word that the murdered immigrant was actually a murderer, killed in an attempt to assassinate the chief. A hundred years later, the incident piques the interest of Vladimir Brik, a struggling writer whose column for the city's alternative weekly has given him a readership but not much of a career, and who relies on the financial support of his wife, an American brain surgeon. Occasionally mistaken for being either Jewish or Muslim-though he is neither-Brik sees the demonizing of Lazarus in a contemporary light: "The war against anarchism was much like the current war on terror-funny how old habits never die." Chapters alternate between Brik's account of the events of 1908 and his current research into the truth about Lazarus, a mission that takes him back to Eastern Europe on an extended journey, accompanied by an amoral former war photographer named Rora. Yet as the novel progresses, it seems that Brik is more concerned with finding the truth abouthimself-Who am I? Where is home?-than he is with the perhaps impossible task of learning what really happened with Lazarus. A literary page-turner that combines narrative momentum with meditations on identity and mortality. Agent: Nicole Aragi/Aragi Inc.
From the Publisher
"A masterful new novel. . . Ingenious. . .Hemon is as much a writer of the senses as of the intellect."
-Washington Post Book Review

"Incandescent. When your eyes close, the power of this novel, of Hemon's colossal talent, remains."
-Junot Dfaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

"Hemon is immensely talented-a natural storyteller and a poet, a maker of amazing, gorgeous sentences in what is his second language."
-Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Remarkable, and remarkably entertaining." -The New York Times Book Review "A physical, historical, and pre-eminently psychological journey."
-San Francisco Chronicle

"Stunning...[a] vivid novel...wildly palpably real."
-Boston Globe

"A measured, clear spotlight of injustice, made all the more eloquent by the prickly humor of the author."
-Los Angeles Times

"Hemon's writing sometimes reminds one of Nabokov's...yet the feat of his reinvention exceeds the Russian's."
-James Wood, The New Yorker

"A profoundly moving novel...A literary page-turner that combines narrative momentum with meditations on identity and mortality."
-Kirkus Reviews.

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Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 - 13 Years

Meet the Author

Aleksandar Hemon is the author of The Lazarus Project, Love and Obstacles, The Question of Bruno, Nowhere Man and The Book of My Lives. He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Genius Award, the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature, the PEN/W. G. Sebald Award, and, most recently, a 2012 USA Fellowship. He lives in Chicago.

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