Aleksandar Hemon is among the hot new talents among us, according to a few of the reviews around. He’s one of those people who drive me to paroxysms of envy because, like Conrad and Nabakov and a few others, he turns out exemplary English work even though it’s not his native language (He’s Bosnian, and now two of my last three books are set largely in Sarajevo. Not sure what that means.) How Nowhere Man made it on to me “look for this one” list, I’m not sure. I’m also not quite sure how to respond to it.
Hemon gets in some good licks, for sure: “our knees touched, and a little furry animal of troubling pleasure moved … in my belly, but I quickly smothered it with the soft pillow of denial.” “our hapless semi-intercourse” ”Natalyka … her hands dead in her lap like hairless bloated hamsters … watching the Red Army choir, handsome men endowed with mandibular strength thundering a victorious song.” ”The embers of [the car’s] brake lights inhaling for the last time, fading out under the ashes of night.”
However, at the beginning I found Nowhere Man much like Dave Eggers’ You Shall Know Our Own Velocity (July 23, ’07)–all sophomoric humor and contrived hi-jinks. And since Eggers is considered another hot new authorial item, I figured I must have just found myself once again lagging behind the world’s literary curve. As the book went on, though, I began to find depth and complexity that I never saw in Velocity. What is to be done, asks Bruno Schulz in the quote which frames the work, with events that have no place of their own in time, events that have occurred too late, after the whole of time has been distributed, divided and allotted; events that have been left in the cold, unregistered, hanging in the air, errant and homeless?
An apt question, which the novel never answers–nor seeks to–but certainly explores. We move back and forth through time and geography, and among narrators, one or more of which appear to be aspects of the main character’s own self. Note that the first passage I quoted above refers to “a little furry animal,” the third to “hairless hamsters.” These small rodent images recur scrambling throughout, furtive and haunting. They lurk, apparently harmless, then emerge with sometimes cataclysmic results. Human endeavor and ambitions are, Hemon seems to suggest, vulnerable to the most inconsequential and unpredictable creatures and events. Like a mouse scurrying through the house in the middle of the night. Our love, our sexuality, our very existences are in doubt at every move, every second. And to think we have found a secure and comprehensible place in the sequence of time and events is perhaps the greatest illusion to which we can fall prey. We, like protagonist Joseph Pronek, are really nowhere. The little man below would be clapping if the first half of the book lived up to the last half. Probably my lack rather than Hemon’s, but this is, after all, my web page.