4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Small Pictures From A Mind's Eye
Aleksandar Hemon has an insider's view on outsiders.
He is one himself.
Translocated from a disintegrating Bosnia to the USA
in 1992 he has made a new life and a new home there.
His new book of stories 'Love and Obstacles' demonstrates
a strong association with marginal characters. We encounter many
of them within these pages, vividly...
Published on 10 Aug 2009 by The Wolf
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good writing
This is a brilliantly written book and the descriptive language and energy in it was superb. However, I felt that the short stories were more like taster chapters of a novel, rather than a complete story. Many of them seemed to just get me desperate to find out more, only to turn the page and find that was the end. The style and humour was excellent and I would definitely...
Published on 25 Sep 2009 by A. Taylor
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4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing and enjoyable,
I requested this, and another Aleksandar Hemon book from vine on the basis of the intriguing blurbs, and I have to say I wasn't disappointed with either. Well written, great plot, and excellent characters made them both unputdownable reads. My only complaint is they seemed a bit short/rushed. Still, recommended as good day off books for anyone who doesn't want to get bogged down in a long read.
3.0 out of 5 stars Not cohesive enough,
A few of the short stories in this collection are very good, but others are rather slight and fail to hold the attention.
For me the main problem with this book is that the stories are all supposed to be based around the narrator and his experiences, but I didn't get a cohesive idea of the narrator's personality - the stories seemed to be being told by a group of narrators, rather one one central; believable being holding it all together. Interesting enough in parts, and not badly written, but not something I would ever have a burning desire to return to.
3.0 out of 5 stars Short story format didn't work for me this time,
I completely understand why those giving this book 5 stars did so.
It's worth you reading their reviews, to see if they resonate for you.
However, my review is neutral at 3 stars because it just wasn't a book I enjoyed.
The short stories were almost too short and didn't seem to give the author space to really build his characters, which I'm sure he has the talent to do. They just didn't engage me. Or maybe that's MY job, as the reader? ;-)
In a number of the stories, this makes the narrative somehow less credible. And this wasn't helped by the sometimes "clunky" use of language - which felt more like overuse of a thesaurus than an accurate portrayal of the narrator's command of English. It felt like this book wasn't quite finished and needed some more editing.
4.0 out of 5 stars Like Marmite... you'll love it or hate it,
Each of Hemmon's short stories - loosely connected by theme, atmosphere and the author's tendency to create characters that appear autobiographical, but are not - is a gem. Some are fantastical, some down to earth. Together they make something quite strange, and possibly eccentric, that will either leave you intrigued and hooked, as I was, or quickly put off.
The narrator, who may be common to each story, is an internationalist with no real ties to any particular country or culture. He may find himself in Africa among people the colonialists appear to have left behind, in a broken Sarajevo or a relatively humdrum Chicago. Wherever he is, he is neither comfortable with himself or those he's with; he's the outsider's outsider.
4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating collection of stories,
This is a curious book. In it, Hemon presents a series of short stories narrated by a single character, an aspiring writer from Bosnia. Each story records an episode in the writer's life, but there are large and unspecified time gaps between the stories. The surface level plots are very varied, from childhood experiences in Africa through experiences in America to a later return to his homeland. In some, nothing of particular significance seems to happen, but this is, I think, part of the point. More significant than the physical details of the plots are the writer's views on himself, the people around him, the places he visits and the things he observes and reads. The thoughts are often disjointed, spontaneous, even odd, but they create a rich tapestry of an inidividual's life. Constant themes are family relationships, cross-cultural encounters, literature and the process of writing, and rites of passage. The insights into these range from those laced with wry humour to poignant and thought-provoking reflections on the political and social changes.
Hemon's style is somewhat eccentric, but very readable. His descriptions are lavish, unpredictable and stimulating, and he has an ability to create engaging characters. This is a book that's meant to puzzle the reader, I think - don't pick it up as an easy read, but instead expect to think, question and reflect on the situations it describes and the world-view of its protagonist.
4.0 out of 5 stars Fragments of the past,
This collection of short stories varies more in style than in content, as all the narrators - raised in Yugoslavia and émigrés to the US - appear to be one narrator, who may be Hemon himself, judging only from the brief author biography at the end. I found the early stories, narrated from an adolescent perspective, to be the most difficult to read, as the prose can sometimes seem a little overwritten, as in the opening of `Stairway to Heaven' - `the air was pasty and still with humidity; the night smelled of burnt flesh and fecundity.' However, there seems ample evidence that some of the affectations in these stories are deliberate - the narrator being a somewhat solipsistic teenager with poetic ambitions. At times, Hemon inhabits his characters' heads with impressive accuracy, as when the sex-obsessed narrator of `Everything' characteristically describes the man sitting next him, absorbed in a crossword puzzle, as `fellating his pen.'
Also, the style becomes clearer, and less obviously literary, as the narrator ages, and I found the later stories to be far more engaging. `The Bees, Part 1', in particular, really stood out. The narrator's depiction of his father's attempt to put together fragments of his own personal history seems to add new depth to `Love and Obstacles' as a whole, as well as being poignant in its own right. There are obvious autobiographical elements here, and the close similarities between the stories can make this collection feel a little repetitive at times. However, Hemon is obviously a gifted writer, and I would be interested to read more by him, especially if it moved further away from his own personal experience, as `The Bees', one of the stories in which his narrator was least important, was in my opinion the best in this collection.
4.0 out of 5 stars short stories full of love and obstacles!,
Overall, all the stories are written in such a way that you can empathise with the character and situations he finds himself in. You can imagine the situations and his reactions as the descriptions are so vivid. It's a non-nationality specific insight into life as a teenage boy in the transition from childhood to manhood! The title of the book is also very apt, as although the stories are individual in their own right, they all link together in the way that they portray his struggle between the two and everything in between.
Stairway to Heaven
This was not the most interesting introductory story to start the book with, but having read the book, I appreciated why it was the initial story. After initial difficulties with trying to find the motivation to read the book, I felt that the story excellently illustrated life as a teenage boy. The trials and tribulations faced while naively trying hard to be a man too quickly to both his family, older peers and most importantly....girls.
"On the road by myself, my first opportunity to live through experiences" sums this story up perfectly, even if it is to go and get something as practical as a freezer chest. The world is his oyster. He has money, no parental controls, no one holding him back, no one knowing him. He is truly alone! This teamed with the naivety of youth leads him into unfortunate adult situations of which he is ill-equipped to effectively deal with, before returning to the safety of home!
This story shows the insecurity of age when faced with youth that could be better than them in their field of expertise and of their oppression of the talent rather than the nurture! The boy despises this oppression but does everything to fit in, hoping that his turn will come.... but in his homeland, it never does. America offers him the freedom to be whoever he wants to be, while at times allowing himself to be the token `foreigner'. Even in America, he cannot let go of old acquaintances, and still seeks their acceptance.
Short and very detailed. You get a sense that you're there by his side. The descriptions leave nothing to chance and allow you to picture everything that he's experiencing. You know he has a job to do, but he's a little soft and listens to peoples stories with genuine interest, seeing their loneliness that makes people do things they normally wouldn't if only for that few minutes of company.
A strange story to read. It is unclear as to Szmura's motives for helping Bogdan in his quest to escape the suffering of home and make a new life in America. At a time when he needs `normality', the life behaviour of Szmura is anything but!
Szmura has no feelings for stepping on and over people for his own gain, which is typified at the end of the story when he kicks Bogdan out leaving him nowhere to go and no idea how to go about getting anywhere!
The Bees, Part 1
While the content of the story itself was not particularly interesting to read, this in a way is irrelevant as it gives an insight into why his father dislikes his son wanting to write and writing. You empathise with his dad and how his experience at college affected his perception and behaviour for the rest of his life. It makes you think about your own behaviours etc and the events that possibly have shaped them!
Death of the American Commando
The innocence and imagination of youth are eloquently portrayed. You really believe that these boys truly thought that they were fighting a war and their belief that they could win and regain their territory. It also shows what you learn as an adult about what you thought your parents didn't know you did when you were younger!
The Noble Truths of Suffering
This final story of the book shows that although the author has grown in years, in experience of judging character, he is still as naive as he ever was a younger man. And while these experienced, prize winning writers are seen on a pedestal, in reality, they are only out for themselves and the next experience that they can use to win the next prize and they don't care who they hurt along the way!
4.0 out of 5 stars Love, loss and bees,
"Love and Obstacles" charts the misadventures of an unnamed narrator, covering episodes from his adolescence through to early middle-life, encompassing locations ranging from the DRC, Chicago, Ukraine and Sarajevo. The novel is primarily about growing up, identity, fiction and truth. Although it is not primarily about the siege of Sarajevo, that conflict remains omnipresent throughout, intersecting sporadically with the narrative and causing the displacement of many key characters.
Beginning in the DRC during the narrator's teenage years there is a youthful exuberance in the prose as he recounts minor incidents with extravagant, exaggerated precision. His joyful embellishment of what is, on the face of it, a reasonably straight forward plot remains a feature throughout, although (as another reviewer has mentioned) the prose settles down into a more nuanced and mature style as the narrator ages in latter chapters. However it remains funny throughout as the narrator charts episodes involving chest freezers, new immigrants to America and his main focus, writing.
Writing and story telling is thoroughly baked into "Love and Obstacles". We meet the narrator as a budding poet, and variously encounter other characters such as an American writer, Bosnian poet, a film student and the narrator's father who takes it upon himself to write a "true book" chronicling their family history of bee-keeping. The narrator's life apparently mimics Hemon's own, to the extent I was left questioning whether this was more embellished autobiography than pure fiction. This seems to be at least one of the book's key points, as the narrator's father is obsessed with truth (as opposed to literary fiction), and the narrator confesses that he enjoys enriching his own childhood recollections with extra polish. The prime example of this is when, in the closing story, the narrator recounts a story that another author has written, drawing from the narrator's life for inspiration: as such Hemon effectively presents us with a story within a story, both of which may be based on his own (true) life anyway. As such "Obstacles" has a clearly meta-fictional edge that mostly works, but at times is a little over-bearing.
However, this is not to detract from the book's energy and vigour. Hardly a page goes by without Hemon's wonderfully wry humour cutting in, and the man seems able to draw on an almost limitless supply of memorable images and similes. His observations are also precise and perfectly observed, proving for great satire that one can readily identify with on numerous occasions. His comic timing is excellent, as is his ability to juxtapose this with rending tragedy. These things combine to make the narrator a funnier Holden Caulfield, with the key difference being that Hemon's protagonist grows up (or at least older).
Overall "Love and Obstacles" is a satisfying and funny read, successfully exploring the issues of displacement, family life and identity following the twin exiles of growing up and being forced from one's country. He explores these things with an engrossing exaggeration and well-polished wit, and ultimately proves himself to be a premier story teller indeed.
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable short stories book,
A very enjoyable short stories book. Perfect for reading on holiday. This is for you if you are open to other cultures and enjoy reading narrative stories from someone of a different cultural background than you. Not only is it entertaining but it is also insightful. It's not a biography but it is very biographical, the carachters are engaging, there is humor, twist, emotions. All in all, a great book.
3.0 out of 5 stars Too many obstacles!,
It is rare that I put a book down without finishing it, but this collection of stories left me cold. I found the author to be rather too self-asborbed and intent on flowery descriptions to actually tell a story of interest and to grip my attention; as other reviewers have said, the stories are mere snippets of life which sometimes can work, but these don't actually lead anywhere. You end each thinking, "... And then what?" It is a victory of style over substance and unfortunately the poorer for it.
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Love and Obstacles by Aleksandar Hemon (Paperback - 5 Mar 2010)