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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 August 2013
Aleksandar Hemon tells us that he is compelled to write fiction but is a reluctant memoirist. Perhaps he didn't enjoy writing this book but you'd never know from reading it.

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.
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on 3 December 2013
This funny, sad, readable and thought-provoking book is a collection of articles that has been edited and reassembled, by the author, into a memoir of his three lives.

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.
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on 24 March 2016
There are interesting areas in this book, and many snippets give insight into being a 'displaced person' - very relevant to today's world. However I found it very disjointed - like a series of separate short pieces rather than a coherent whole.... Then lo and behold when you get to the end (and only then) you find out that this is exactly what it really is: each of the chapters has appeared separately in print elsewhere at various times. We're told they've been re-written and edited for this book and maybe they have, but it hasn't made the book cohere. I felt cheated by the disingenuous marketing of this book - it should have been publicised and sold as a collection of previously written articles, not as a 'new' book about his life/lives.
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on 11 March 2015
Mr Hemon could write a book about a blade of grass growing and make it a wonderful reading experience. More than anything, the quality of the writing grips you.
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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on 24 April 2013
Best book by Hemon so far. If it doesn't move you, you have no heart. I've been recommending it to all my friends
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on 8 October 2015
Unlike most other autobiographies, fresh and interesting but too much "bits and pieces". Aleksandar is still a fairly young man, we can expect more from him.
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on 8 April 2013
Book of great beauty and sadness, invest in it, it will move you. I had suggested to all my freinds to read it.
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on 23 August 2014
Beautiful writing about non- beautiful, hard subject
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on 10 July 2015
Very interesting book, last chapter out of place.
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on 18 March 2016
Hemon grew up in a magical Sarajevo where three faiths had coexisted peacefully for centuries. He left his domicile in 1992 for a brief US-sponsored trip to Chicago, weeks before the long siege of Sarajevo began. He returned six years later, having become a refugee in Chicago, then a US citizen. His colorful stories are love songs to the two cities that have shaped his outlook on life. But all his stories were written and published long after the Bosnian war was settled. He experienced none of its horror.
Normally, one reads a writer’s fiction first, then his non-fiction. Here, except for some short pieces in “GRANTA”, my acquaintance with AH began with this collection of autobiographical stories, all rewritten and more or less chronologically arraigned for this volume. All his writing was done in the US, from memory and that of friends, with 1992 a crucial year. Retrospectively, he describes his early life in Bosnia in nostalgic and ironic hues, later on he turns from worried and confused to outright furious and vengefull..
His years in Chicago since 1992 were hard. His Ukrainian roots were helpful in the beginning. Finding steady work and shelter hard. But Hemon greatly improved his basic English over the years and slowly became a notable writer in English.
The closing story “The Aquarium” is hauntingly dramatic. It monitors his nine-month old daughter Isabel’s 108-days struggle with a rare form of brain tumor. Read how passionately Hemon, an avowed atheist, mourns her suffering and death and how he writes about how the process impacted on his wife and three-year old daughter Ella. First published in “The New Yorker”, which is very tough on checking facts, the medical procedures and rescue efforts are surely professionally described.
Finally, at some point Aleksandar Hemon states that in his native Bosnian language there are no separate words for fiction and non-fiction. Meaning that a shortage of the one can be balanced by an infusion of the other? Whereby this book could easily be called “The book of my lies”?.
This reviewer has started reading “The Lazarus Project”, his most successful novel.
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