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Aleksandar Hemon — Love & Obstacles

Aleksandar Hemon’s writing is something really special; his The Lazarus Project was one of my favorite books I read in 2008. It is both lyrical and humorous and generally engaging. He writes often of the Bosnian experience; it’s an interesting perspective in addition to the very human, believable characters that he creates. This latest work, Love & Obstacles, is a collection of linked short stories (most of them follow the life of one man, from his childhood encountering American drug addicts in Africa, to his eventual emigration, and his attempts to write poetry). It is, like The Lazarus Project a fantastic book.

The title comes from one of those linked stories, the line of a poem that the narrator pens after trying (and failing) to seduce a married woman; the outcome is painfully comical and cringe-inducing, setting up the irony of the grand pronouncements of the title of the book, as well as the poems in that particular short story. Though the stories skip around in time and space, they will keep your attention until the end of the book, which almost (almost) functions as a novel on its own.

Part of the reason that Hemon’s writing is so effective is the strange, out-of-place bits of humor and ugliness that pepper it. Just when you’re starting to get swept up in the moment, there’s an ugly word like ass or a phrase like, for example, when a drunken poet returns home to his wife with a friend in tow:

…cursing in the most beautiful Bosnian and listing all her sins against him: her bastard son, her puritanism, her president, her decaf coffee.

How can you not love it? In some books such little details or ugly words might jar you out of the swing of the story, but here, they are simply little odd, ugly embroideries on the life of a man always out of place.

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