The Book of My Lives Hardcover – 14 Mar 2013
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‘Aleksandar Hemon is, quite frankly, the greatest writer of our generation. His literature is deep, agile, funny, graceful, searing, angry, raw, questioning. It is of present and eternal use . . . This is a book – like all of Aleksandar Hemon’s books – that is an aria for our times. I will cherish it.’
Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin
‘The Book of My Lives is written with the full force of humanity. It will make you think, laugh, cry, and remember yourself. If you’ve never read Aleksandar Hemon, prepare to have your worldview deepened.’
Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
‘Hemon’s work crackles with so much humor and irony, so much compassion and humanity, that The Book of My Lives’ true calling almost goes by unnoticed: it is, without doubt, the most necessary, intimate and heartbreaking portrait of a world lost to one of history’s darkest conflicts.’
Téa Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife
'We find this . . . beautifully, horrible resolve in The Book of My Lives, the first collection of nonfiction by MacArthur "genius" grant-winning writer Aleksander Hemon.' Baltimore City Paper
'Hemon chronicles with defining intensity, rueful self-critique, and piquant humor indelible revelations personal, cultural, and political. He is passionate . . . writes with deft force, piercing observation, and commanding candor about the individual's place within life's web and the horrors and beauty of the human condition.' Booklist
'In happiness there is alienation, and in sadness there is humor. Combined with Hemon's mad storytelling skills, The Book of My Lives is a powerful collection.' Boswell Book Company
'Aleksander Hemon has been telling critically acclaimed stories for years . . . In his latest collection, The Book of My Lives, he tells his own stories . . . in such a way that it could take its place on the shelf of great Chicago literature . . . The universal truths found in his memoir feel all the more powerful for being grounded in his own, sometimes painfully real, life.' Chicago Tribune
'Hemon manages to write about his own younger days in a way that makes them both uniquely his own, but also universal . . . [Hemon] evokes a magical city of random gorgeous images and events . . . Hemon is engaging and interesting company, and the story of his life - or lives - is one worth telling.' Christian Science Monitor
'2013 Book Preview: The Most Anticipated Books of the Year':
'One of the happier recent phenomena in American publishing has been the popular success of exceptional essay collections . . . Bets are on Aleksander Hemon's wise and entrancing memoir-in-essays to be the next.' The Daily Beast
'The Book of My Lives defies convention and expectation. It is a love-song to two different cities; it is a heartbreaking paean to the bonds of family; it is a stirring exhortation to go out and play soccer―and not for the exercise. It is a book driven by passions but built on fierce intelligence, devastating experience, and sharp insight. And like the best narratives, it is a book that will leave you a different reader―a different person, with a new way of looking at the world. For fans of Hemon’s fiction, The Book of My Lives is simply indispensable; for the uninitiated, it is the perfect introduction to one of the great writers of our time.' Farrar Straus & Giroux
'The essays in The Book of My Lives are about the meaning of home. Spacious and full-hearted . . . the last chapters break ground where fiction has no place . . . Confessional yet honourably restrained, these pages promise to be unforgettable.' Mark Thompson, Independent
'The Book of My Lives is a memoir in connected essays, wrenching but often very funny and self deprecating too . . . In this book, loving, humorous accounts of family, friends and pets have the potential to expand our compassion towards the strangers who live among us.' Independent
'I'm not quite sure Aleksandar Hemon counts as an American writer, but he is one of my favorite American writers. Before The Book of My Lives, I never really thought of him as a nonfiction person, but this new book - a memoir in essays - has some of his best writing. When Hemon's work is funny, it can make you laugh in spite of everything, and when it is sad, it's hard to stand up afterward.' John Jeremiah Sullivan (author of Pulphead)
'Incandescent. When your eyes close, the power of Hemon's colossal talent remains.' Junot Díaz (author of This is How You Lose Her)
'An acclaimed novelist - winner of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant and finalist for the National Book Award - returns with an affecting memoir about his youth in Sarajevo and his escape and adjustment to the West . . . The chapters, in fact, could in many ways stand alone. But their cumulative emotional power - accelerated by a wrenching final section about the grievous illness of his younger daughter - eventually all but overwhelms. Amuses, informs and inspires - then, finally, rips open the heart.' Kirkus
' If any contemporary writer has a chance to still be around long after we’re all gone, most would lay odds that it’s the Chicagoan-via-Bosnia Aleksandar Hemon, the one who wrote his first story in English in 1995, and who garners comparisons to Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov. If Hemon’s writings stir the soul . . . it’s his humanity that inspires. His recounting in The New Yorker last summer about the illness and death of his tenth-month-old daughter Isabel was one of the most terrifying and heartbreaking stories ever printed. He has a book of autobiographical essays coming out in 2013, entitled The Book of My Lives and he continues to edit the Best European Fiction series, now in its fourth rendering.
'A collection of 15 mostly previously published essays . . . the book has the feel of a patchwork memoir that focuses on defining and enlightening moments in the author's life rather than his existence as a whole . . . The author begins to reveal more of his feelings . . . thereby creating a true connection with his subject and audience . . . The book culminates with 'The Aquarium,' 28 heart-wrenching pages of powerful prose originally published in the New Yorker, about his infant daughter's battle with cancer that is nothing short of a tour de force; its terrible beauty demonstrates Hemon's transformation as a writer and a man.' Publishers Weekly
'It's at once unimaginable and unforgettable . . . With Hemon, says the writer Jonathan Lethem, 'above all and no matter the topic or register, it's the voice -- that glowering intelligence pulsing behind a truly glittering surface . . .' Time
'Aleksandar Hemon . . . is often praised for his inventive use of language . . . he can articulate what he likes with equal passion and precision . . . These events of his lives are by turns funny, intense, poignant and sad - in other words, great memoir material . . . Hemon is a virtuoso linguist, maker of gorgeous sentences and arguably the best writer to currently call Chicago home.' Time Out Chicago
'Literary badass Aleksandar Hemon . . . is known for biting irony, humor, and humanity in his novels and stories . . . The rawness of those elements also rings through his first book of nonfiction, The Book of My Lives.' Village Voice
A deft, playful, poignant and powerful look at the novelist's life, in Yugoslavia and New York (Best Books of 2013 Sunday Times)
The first nonfiction book―searing, revealing, unforgettable―from one of our most acclaimed writers.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
His keen eye for what's really important in life shines through these chapters as he recalls his Sarajevo upbringing in a loving family in the 1980s, the ominous sparks of the firestorm to come in 1992 and his unintended but extremely fortuitous relocation to Chicago just before the siege. Will the mighty, sprawling 'windy city' ever be able to replace the cosy familiarity of his old town neighbourhood?
I just love this guy's writing. Smart, engaging and immensely appealing, it's full of soul yet leavened with humour. But when I read the final chapter, I understood why he didn't want to write non-fiction.
The first life, prior to the vicious 1990s civil war in Yugoslavia, is lived in Sarajevo - a city which Aleksandar Hemon conjures in brief and memorable vignettes. Here, he explains, his primary sense of teenage identity came not from his cultural background but from the gangs to which every self-respecting boy belonged. In contrast he describes the inevitable question posed during and after the civil war by combatants, international journalists and bureaucrats alike: 'What are you?' To which the only admissible answer was the reductive tick-box identity of ethnicity or religion.
Fleeing Yugoslavia as it is fractured along sectarian and ethnic lines he finds refuge in the USA, leaping from the centuries-old mixing pot of Sarajevo into the fires of Chicago - a city of refugees. As he recounts his struggles to create a second life we are introduced to a succession of others who have been similarly dislocated, from the multi-national football team whose players are known by their country of origin to the Assyrian, Peter, who beats him at chess.
This second life is bought to a close by a bereavement which creates a rupture with all former sense of self, as certain bereavements are wont to do. Hemon's account of this loss is merciless - to the reader and most of all to himself - and it brings the book to a sobering and difficult end. But this very private coda casts its light on all that has been recounted before, a challenge to the sentimentalisation of suffering beloved by Hollywood in which loss is so often seen as a prelude to 'redemption'. In the world that Hemon conjures there is no purpose or nobility in pain, be it private and personal or meted out on the streets of Sarajevo.
Incisive and partial, The Book of My Lives is filled with deftly drawn characters, pithy, humane and provocative observations, humour and anger. Often enjoyable and always easy to read, it is much harder to forget.
Look, just read it but be warned, the last chapter will make you cry, okay?
The five stars were a 'gimme'!
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