History's Storm

The Lazarus Project
Aleksandar Hemon
Riverhead Books, $24.95, 294 pp.

In the fiction of Aleksandar Hemon, the dramatic tension lies not within one story but between competing stories. There is always a bigger story, properly called history, and a smaller one, the personal story of a protagonist who is usually a fragmented reflection of Hemon himself. The bigger story usually concerns large-scale atrocities fueled by irrational hatred: memories of genocide, pogroms, and war haunt his characters. The smaller, more personal stories are candles flickering in history’s storm.

In his two previous books—the short-story collection The Question of Bruno and the novel Nowhere Man—Hemon approaches this tension obliquely. The first Bruno story, “Islands,” includes a scene where the main character, a small child, listens to memories of Soviet terror related by his old Uncle Julius, who says, “We live and live, and in the end we’re just like this boy...knowing nothing, remembering nothing.” Another story, “The Sorge Spy Ring,” consists of a child’s reimagining of his parents’ personal histories, their pasts embellished in his mind with tales of espionage. The biography of the infamous Soviet spy Richard Sorge is simultaneously told in a succession of footnotes that take up about half of each page. The child’s...

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