4 out of 5: The Lazarus Project documents Vladimir Brik's trip back to his Bosnian homeland to research the life story of Lazarus Averbuch, a Bosnian who immigrated to the US in the early 1900s and was killed by the Chicago police chief, allegedly for being an anarchist. Mixed with Brik's modern journey is Lazarus's own story and the stories told by the writer's traveling partner, a Bosnian war photographer named Rora. The Lazarus Project is a novel, but much of it is based in truth. On March 2, 1908, the Chicago police chief actually killed an alleged anarchist named Lazarus Averbuch, and, like Brik, Hemon is an American writer from Bosnia. These shades of truth, mixed with Rora's photographs that appear at the beginning of each chapter, create a book that feels more like a memoir than a novel.
As Brik delves into Lazarus’s story, tracing his immigration to America in reverse, Brik examines his own story of immigration and attempted assimilation and uncovers an internal conflict he's spent years trying to ignore. This excerpt illustrates Brik's disillusionment with America and also Hemon's casually beautiful prose:
In Chicago, I had found myself longing for the Sarajevo way of [telling stories]--Sarajevans told stories ever aware that the listeners' attention might flag, so they exaggerated and embellished and sometimes downright lied to keep it up. You listened, rapt, ready to laugh, indifferent to doubt or implausibility. There was a story telling code of solidarity--you did not sabotage someone else's narration if it was satisfying to the audience, or you could expect one of your stories to be sabotaged one day, too. Disbelief was permanently suspended, for nobody expected truth or information, just the pleasure of being in the story and, maybe, passing it off as their own. It was different in America: the incessant perpetuation of collective fantasies makes people crave the truth and nothing but the truth--reality is the fastest American commodity.
Many slender threads weave this book's several narratives together in a way that is subtle but powerful. Names are shared by multiple characters existing hundreds of years apart, suggesting cosmic connections. Certain themes echo across time and place in the same formulations (“Home is where somebody notices your absence” or “There has never been a time when nothing happened”). Although the plot is occasionally sluggish and disjointed, the subtle play between Brik's journey of self discovery and Lazarus's story make The Lazarus Project a remarkable accomplishment.