Ob­sta­cles cleared with ease

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment -

THE LAZARUS PROJECT firmly e s t a bl i s hed Alek­san­dar He­mon’s po­si­tion within con­tem­po­rary fic­tion — that he re­ceived the MacArthur “ge­nius” grant merely con­firmed what his fans had long sus­pected.

Now, his lat­est, Love and Ob­sta­cles (Pi­cador, £8.99), col­lects to­gether eight sto­ries con­nected both by an un­named nar­ra­tor and the Bos­nian war of 1992, which cast He­mon him­self into a strange Amer­i­can ex­ile.

The first tale is set in the Congo, where the 16-year-old Bos­nian nar­ra­tor be­comes fas­ci­nated by the life (and girl­friend) of his drum-beat­ing, fastliv­ing up­stairs neigh­bour, and is con­fronted with a lit­tle too much re­al­ity as a re­sult.

He­mon is as adept at con­jur­ing Africa as he is at evok­ing Bos­nia, but in the other tales he ex­plores more tra­di­tional ma­te­rial — life in Sara­jevo, and the United States.

One of the best opens with our nar­ra­tor on a night train to Za­greb — he has been sent to Slove­nia to buy a freezer chest for his fam­ily, and he is de­ter­mined to find a woman to take the sin­gle con­tra­cep­tive pill he car­ries in or­der for her, sub­se­quently, to take his vir­gin­ity.

He­mon is smart, sub­tle, hi­lar­i­ous and in­sight­ful, and his writ­ing is filled with colour and pathos. His char­ac­ters — whether or not we may want them in the room with us — leap off the page. Like many in­ge­nious writ­ers, He­mon is oc­ca­sion­ally too clever — overly slick and tricksy. But, mostly, he is an ab­so­lute joy to read. FRANCESCA SE­GAL

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