cover image The Book of My Lives

The Book of My Lives

Aleksandar Hemon. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-11573-9

Hemon is known for fiction like Nowhere Man and The Lazarus Project, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, but this work is his first volume of nonfiction. A collection of 15 mostly previously published essays assembled in somewhat chronological order, the book has the feel of a patchwork memoir that focuses on defining and enlightening moments in the author’s life rather than his existence as a whole. The “lives” of the title refer to his formative years growing up in Sarajevo and his adult life as a resident to Chicago and the stories are basically split between these two worlds. The first half of the book finds Hemon writing about himself and socio-political beliefs such as communism, socialism, and journalism, and the tales—while important in the context of the Bosnian War of the ’90s—lack a wider perspective that would make them more inviting and compelling. But with the eighth entry, “Dog Lives,” which centers on two family pets and straddles both Hemon’s homes, the author begins to reveal more of his feelings, dwelling less on philosophy, thereby creating a true connection with his subject and audience. As he goes on to focus on his adopted hometown, the immigrants he plays soccer with, the chess players at his local cafe, and his past and present lovers, the themes and writing become more personal, emotional, and dynamic. The book culminates with “The Aquarium,” 28 heart-wrenching pages of powerful prose originally published in the New Yorker, about his infant daughter’s battle with cancer that is nothing short of a tour de force; its terrible beauty demonstrates Hemon’s transformation as a writer and a man. Agent: Nicole Aragi, the Aragi Agency. (Mar.)