On March 2, 1908, 19-year-old Lazarus Averbuch, a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe to Chicago, knocked on the front door of the house of George Shippy, the chief of Chicago police, for reasons lost to history. When Shippy came to the door, Averbuch offered him what he said was an important letter for him. But instead of taking the letter, Shippy shot Averbuch twice, killing him.
When Shippy released a statement casting the foreigner Averbuch as an anarchist who had intended to assassinate him, America was ready to agree. It was a time when Chicago was still recovering from the Haymarket riots; anarchism and, especially, foreign-tongued immigrants were the big scare of mainstream America. A new wave of xenophobia was already sweeping through Chicago and the rest of the country when the Averbuch shooting set off a tumult that would involve Emma Goldman, marches in the streets, and a rash of scare headlines from coast-to-coast.
Now, in the twenty-first century, a young writer in Chicago, Brik, also from Eastern Europe, becomes obsessed with Lazarus's story - what really happened, and why? In order to understand Lazarus, Brik and his friend Rora - who overflows with stories of his life as a Sarajevo war photographer - retrace Lazarus's path backward across Eastern Europe, through a history of pogroms and poverty, and through a present day of cheap mafiosi and cheaper prostitutes. The stories of Lazarus and Brik become inextricable entwined, augmented by the photographs that Rora takes on their journey, creating a truly original, provocative, and entertaining novel that will confirm Hemon once and for all as one of the most dynamic and essential literary voices of our time.
MacArthur genius Hemon in his third book (after Nowhere Man) intelligently unpacks 100 years' worth of immigrant disillusion, displacement and desperation. As fears of the anarchist movement roil 1908 Chicago, the chief of police guns down Lazarus Averbuch, an eastern European immigrant Jew who showed up at the chief's doorstep to deliver a note. Almost a century later, Bosnian-American writer Vladimir Brik secures a coveted grant and begins working on a book about Lazarus; his research takes him and fellow Bosnian Rora, a fast-talking photographer whose photos appear throughout the novel, on a twisted tour of eastern Europe (there are brothel-hotels, bouts of violence, gallons of coffee and many fabulist stories from Rora) that ends up being more a journey into their own pasts than a fact-finding mission. Sharing equal narrative duty is the story of Olga Averbuch, Lazarus's sister, who, hounded by the police and the press (the Tribune reporter is especially vile), is faced with another shock: the disappearance of her brother's body from his potter's grave. (His name, after all, was Lazarus.) Hemon's workmanlike prose underscores his piercing wit, and between the murders that bookend the novel, there's pathos and outrage enough to chip away at even the hardest of hearts. (May) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
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April 30, 2008
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