By January 11, 2012 0 Comments Read More →

The Lazarus Project

One would hope that in a nation of immigrants, defined by the immigrant experience, we would get it right.  The evidence does often point in the opposite direction and certain voices are able to capture the dysfunctional attempts to bring people into American society and find a use for them.

Unfortunately, on occasion, the use is as a political device.  Years ago, when anarchism was a political and social tool for change by some radicals, American society reacted.  One true story involves a Jewish immigrant who had survived the pogroms of Russia only to be shot dead by the Chief of Police in Chicago in 1908.  This historical fact is used by contemporary writer Aleksandar Hemon for one half of his novel, The Lazarus Project.  Readers not only see the tragedy that played out in  Police Chief George Shippy’s house but we also see the massive cover up that occurred after including sensationalized journalism and manipulation of the event for political and social gain.

That story is paralleled with the tale of the contemporary narrator, Vladimir Brik.  Brik is a survivor of the Bosnian and Serbian wars who has immigrated to America, like Averbuch, only to discover a bit of dillusionment.  While Brik does not suffer the poverty of wealth and purpose that Averbuch did, he is adrift in a society where he does not fit.

When Brik wins a grant to write Averbuch’s story, he uses the money to travel across the European landscape with a photographer named Rora.  Their journey is made through the poverty of this landscape, devastated by the ethnic wars that have been going on for centuries.  While the tensions in these areas are palatable, they are made even more meaningful by Rora’s personal history and the fact that he is a Muslim.

Book groups will find the appeal of discussing this title includes not only the parallel of anti-Semitism and prejudice against Muslims but also the depth and richness displayed by the characters who populate this novel.  The historical context and the photographs that grace the text will also create more issues to be reviewed.  This novel should be relevant to any book discussion group who wants to tackle these issues. 

For additional information about this title, revisit the posting by Nick DiMartino on February 15, 2009, called The Aleksandar Hemon Experience.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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