cover image The World and All That It Holds

The World and All That It Holds

Aleksandar Hemon. MCD, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-28770-2

Three-time NBCC finalist Hemon (The Lazarus Project) returns with a potent story of love, war, and displacement in the early 20th century. Rafael Pinto, a Bosnian Jew, returns from schooling in Vienna and takes over his recently deceased father’s apothecary in Sarajevo. After Pinto witnesses Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, he’s drafted into the army and falls in love with Osman Karišik, a fellow soldier, Muslim orphan, and prodigious storyteller. Soon, the two are captured by the Russians and imprisoned in Tashkent. There, Pinto is tormented by disease, starvation, and the random executions of inmates, especially after Osman is pulled from their cell. But as the war ends, Osman frees Pinto, and they’re helped in Tashkent by a Jewish doctor and his daughter, Klara. After a period of relative peace and happiness, the two friends’ lives become deeply entwined with Klara’s family. Then Bolsheviks sweep the country, and Pinto flees across central Asia during the early 1920s, making his way toward China while yearning for Osman and grappling with opium addiction. Hemon easily immerses readers in the characters’ various languages, particularly the Sarajevo “Spanjol” dialect, and brings home via vivid daydreams Pinto’s anguish while separated from Osman. Readers will delight in this sweeping epic. Agent: Nicole Aragi, Aragi Inc. (Jan.)