Obstacles cleared with ease
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