The Book of My Lives
By Aleksandar Hemon
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374115739, 224pp.)
Publication Date: March 19, 2013
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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Aleksandar Hemon's lives begin in Sarajevo, a small, blissful city where a young boy's life is consumed with street soccer with the neighborhood kids, resentment of his younger sister, and trips abroad with his engineer-cum-beekeeper father. Here, a young man's life is about poking at the pretensions of the city's elders with American music, bad poetry, and slightly better journalism. And then, his life in Chicago: watching from afar as war breaks out in Sarajevo and the city comes under siege, no way to return home; his parents and sister fleeing Sarajevo with the family dog, leaving behind all else they had ever known; and Hemon himself starting a new life, his own family, in this new city.
And yet this is not really a memoir. The Book of My Lives, Hemon's first book of nonfiction, 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--when you've finished. 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.
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2013
Aleksandar Hemon is the author of The Question of Bruno, Nowhere Man, The Lazarus Project, and Love and Obstacles. He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation, the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature, the PEN/W. G. Sebald Award, and, most recently, a 2012 USA Fellowship. He lives in Chicago.
Celebrated novelist Aleksandar Hemon's first nonfiction book is a memoir of his early life in Sarajevo, his flight and acclimation to Chicago after the Bosnian War broke out, and the family tragedy that hit years after he made his new home in the U.S. More at NPR.org
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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. The Book of My Lives is worth it simply for the dedication: 'For Isabel, forever breathing on my chest.' He writes it, and so she breathes on ours too. Such is the function of storytelling: to get to the essence of that which might eventually break our hearts. This is a book--like all of Aleksandar Hemon's books--that is an aria for our times. I will cherish it.
Incandescent. When your eyes close, the power of Aleksandar Hemon's colossal talent remains.
Aleksandar Hemon's work crackles with so much humor and irony, so much compassion and humanity, that The Book of My Lives's 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.
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.
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.
You should read Aleksandar Hemon's memoir for the same reason you should read his fiction: He is not only a remarkably talented writer but also one of the great social observers, a cultural anthropologist who seems at home everywhere and nowhere and who balances despair with hope, anger with humor.
One of the best prose stylists--in any language--at work today . . . and this collection is a compelling argument for his emergence as a vitally important writer.
A tour de force.
The writing is gorgeous, the ending unexpected . . . I was left wanting more.
Elegant and funny . . . Acutely observed, deeply felt.
Hemon has a dazzling gift for observation.
Powerful . . . Engaging . . . Hemon invites readers to savor both his émigré triumphs and his émigré pain--an invitation worth seizing.
Acute meditations on exile and otherness, and the redeeming power of language.
Wise and entrancing.
Hemon is engaging and interesting company, and the story of his life--or lives--is one worth telling.