comparisons to Nabokov and Conrad ...
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Welcome to Sarajevo
By Nathan Heller
May 19, 2009 | 1:38 p.m
Hemon won a MacArthur 'Genius' grant in 2004.
Love and Obstacles
By Aleksandar Hemon
Riverhead, 210 pp., $25.95
"I've always enjoyed destruction,” says the narrator in one of Aleksandar Hemon’s most recent short stories. “[T]here was always something breathtaking in effecting obliteration.” Mr. Hemon is a Sarajevo-raised writer who was abroad during his hometown’s 1992 atrocities, so when he writes about “destruction,” he’s alluding to a particularly obscure hurt—a scar left by the things he didn’t see, a home fallen to pieces far away. The stories in his new collection, Love and Obstacles, reanimate that lost world even as they cast doubt on the writer’s enterprise. Mr. Hemon seeks to bring short fiction back to life by blowing open the pretenses of the art.
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The sheer range of this skill—and in a second language—garners frequent comparisons to Nabokov and Conrad. (The author naturally encourages this line of thinking: Nabokov’s name is invoked on the back flap; Conrad crops up teasingly in the first story.) But the comparisons are gratuitous. Nabokov was a hall-of-mirrors postmodernist; Conrad was a romantic with a taste for allegory. Mr. Hemon is both of these, but he is also, crucially, a writer in the confessional mode: The stories in Love and Obstacles are interlinked snapshots that seem to trace a single life—a life uncannily like Mr. Hemon’s. “You may have read my story ‘Love and Obstacles,’ ” the narrator drunkenly boasts to a Pulitzer winner he’s trying to impress. “It was in The New Yorker not so long ago.” In fact, Mr. Hemon’s own “Love and Obstacles” ran in that magazine’s Nov. 28, 2005, issue.
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