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Nowhere Man by Aleksandar Hemon
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's review
Jan 28, 2008

really liked it

Hemon is one of those writers coming out of another language who finds a singular way of expressing himself in English. This first novel is filled with beautiful and whimsical turns of phrase. Like Hemon's short story collection, "The Question of Bruno," this novel vividly describes Chicago – the Chicago that I know – in a way that few other books have. I also enjoyed the rock-music references (the Beatles cover band in Sarajevo, the Sonic Youth-loving Greenpeace volunteer who calls herself Evol). Hemon plays tricks with the narrative point of view, telling the story of his protagonist Jozef Pronek through the voices of several other characters who encounter him at various stages of his life. This reminded me a lot of what Nabokov does with the narrators in "Pnin" and "Pale Fire." Taken at face value, it's clear that Hemon's narrators cannot know as much about Pronek as they claim. Is Pronek himself telling the story and trying to obscure that fact by adapting these other voices? The identity of at least one ghost-like narrator is a mystery. Beyond the literary device, the book is a compelling character portrait. I won't give away the end, but I will say that the final section is somewhat baffling – not necessarily in a bad way. I'm not clear on exactly what it means, and it includes some interesting references to Hemon's previous book. The final chapter makes "Nowhere Man" even more of an enigma, though it's the sort of enigma I enjoy puzzling over.
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