Jozef Pronek, the quirky Sarajevan who captured the imagination of readers in Hemon's acclaimed story collection (The Question of Bruno), gets full-length treatment in this acutely self-aware and tender first novel. Hemon plunges into the inner world of the observant Pronek, making ordinary events seem extraordinary through the sheer power of his detailed descriptions as his protagonist navigates the war-torn land that was once Marshal Tito's Yugoslavia and the wilds of Chicago in the 1990s. Death is a constant companion for Pronek, as is a mysterious man who shadows him wherever he goes, and their lockstep journey is at the heart of a book that wanders back and forth through time and space. Hemon is stingingly accurate in his portrayal of the small, pivotal moments of youth: Pronek resorting to sliced onions to make himself cry at his grandmother's funeral, his first bungling effort at sex, his noisy rock band and his humiliating stint as a soldier. When Pronek goes to Kiev to visit his grandfather, Hemon effectively spells out his need to make sense of his life and his frustrated nationalism, his love for a country that seems to no longer love itself. The weight of such reflections are counterbalanced by zany scenes like Pronek's encounter with President G.H.W. Bush at a ceremony on the site of the Babi Yar massacre. As a "nowhere man," Pronek travels to Chicago, where he is out of step with the alienated youth culture, a person with a dubious identity and past that is not fully explained until the final chapter. Pronek's constantly reconfiguring life makes the novel a wild, twisty read, and Hemon's inimitable voice and the wry urgency of his storytelling should cement his reputation as a talented young writer. (Sept.)
Forecast:As a novel, and a novel featuring the already celebrated Jozef, Nowhere Man should build on the success of The Question of Bruno and easily surpass it in sales. Author tour.